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Commissioners take over new meeting place

Beaufort County commissioners have a new place to hash out local issues.

The Board of Commissioners met Monday night for the first time in the commissioners’ new boardroom, located in the West Second Street building that was previously First Bank. After extensive renovations, the building is now hosting the board’s meetings, as well as serving as the county water department’s payment processing center.

The property was purchased by the county in 2015 for $472,606, to make more space for county departments close to the county administrative offices. The renovation project was initially included in a $3 million borrowing package passed in the 2017-18 budget — one of several infrastructure maintenance/construction projects included in the package. Commissioners, instead, borrowed the money from a $4.5 million trust that rolled over from the Beaufort County Hospital Authority Fund — money put aside by Vidant Health for outstanding liabilities in the transition to Vidant Beaufort — once all accounts had been settled.

“Hospital Funds were loaned to the General Fund and are being paid back over 10 years with interest at a rate of 1.2%, which is the rate of interest that those hospital funds were earning at the time,” said county CFO Anita Radcliffe.

The commissioners’ new meeting place has expanded seating for the public, featuring multiple screens with a view of the proceedings throughout. The commissioners’ desk also features a mutable microphone for each member of the board.

The cost of the renovations was $642,177, for a total $1,114,783 project, according to Radcliffe.

“I think this is wonderful facility, and you all look very handsome up there. The only thing wrong with it is that it’s not in our new facility,” said Dot Moate, during the public comment period. Moate also used the public comment period to advocate for a new public safety facility, a referendum for which some members of the board are trying to get on the 2020 ballot.

While the interior of the building is clear about its purpose, the exterior can be a bit confusing: the original drive-through window is still there but is being used for county purposes; and a working First Bank ATM remains at the rear of the building, which county Manager Brian Alligood said is there to stay for awhile.

“The conditions when we bought it were that we continue to lease that area to (First Bank) for a certain number of years,” Alligood said.