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Costs for County Office Space are in Outer Space

January 30, 2018

Just how much should it cost to renovate Regions Bank?



Building Renovation to be Costly  (Jan. 24, 2018 story in Times-Gazette)


In the last Financial Committee meeting, a proposed Budget Amendment for an additional $204,000 for renovations to Regions Bank was approved unanimously without any real discussion on why, other than being told that was what it cost. That brings the amount "budgeted" for renovations to $724,000.00 for 4 offices, County Clerk, Trustee, Deeds and Elections.



Bank Building History


Regions Bank announced in 2009 that they were selling the building on the square.  On March 20, 2012 Commissioner Yockey suggested the County buy the Regions Bank building and expand the courtrooms, but no action was taken. A couple of months later Regions announced it was indeed selling the building in an online auction. The T-G reported on November 29, 2012 .."that when they asked Mayor Ray if the County had any plans on bidding on the building he seemed taken aback by the question but did not indicate any definite plans by the county. The bank building hasn't been mentioned at the most recent meetings of the county commission or the standing committees".


Tn. State Representative Pat Marsh was high bidder and purchased the building in December 2012, and just a few days later, on December 18, 2012 the finance committee and the courthouse and property committee (meeting on the same night due to the upcoming Christmas holidays) voted to recommend the County purchase the building from Marsh for $315,000 plus costs. (The County purchased the building in January 2013 without going through a bidding process.) Commissioner J.D. 'Bo' Wilson ,a member of the Finance Committee, stated to the T-G that the he had been in private negotiations with Marsh. Wilson also stated that the County had an interest in the building but had little time to meet publicly before the online auction...and the County didn't want to tip its hand by publicly discussing what it was willing to pay.


For the next two years, while Regions Bank was leasing the 1st floor,  no real action was taken on this property. After the bank announced it was leaving early, Mayor Ray asked County Codes Director, Chris White, to estimate the costs to create courtrooms.  Mr. White informed the Commission on January 20, 2015 that changing the use of the building from offices to courtrooms would involve different building codes requiring additional elevators and stairways and greatly increasing the costs, but a continued use as office space would "grandfather" in the existing codes and allow the fee offices to occupy the spaces.


The County needed time to develop the plans for the fee offices, so a special called meeting of the County Commission occurred on May 26, 2015 to extend the lease for the fee offices at US Bank for three years, it being $48,600 per year ($30,000 for the 3 offices in the basement and $18,600 for the Property Assesor's office on the 3rd floor).


A year later the plans for the new offices were presented to Robert Daniel who informed the Courthouse and Property Committee on June 21, 2016 that the first proposal for adapting the space turned out to be more expensive than the county expected, and so the county went back to the drawing board to reduce the costs.


Flash forward another year and on June 27, 2017 Robert Daniel informed the Finance Committee that the county hopes to start work "really soon", (inferring that the plans are complete and costs were in line.) The T-G reported that "the process of deciding how to economically renovate the bank building has taken longer than many expected, and county commissioners frequently ask about the status of the project during public meetings."


During this same meeting, as the upcoming 2017 /18 county fiscal year budget was being presented, Commissioner P.T. "Biff" Farrar remarked about an increase in the county buildings budget line item. Daniel explained that was from money which had been set aside for the renovation project during the current fiscal year which hasn't been used yet and is being rolled over into the next fiscal year. The money comes from litigation tax and is in a restricted fund for use on county offices. This is the only time in my recollection that a "budget' for the Regions building renovation was discussed. This amount as detailed on the 2017 /18 budget document is $520,000 up from the $200,000 on the same line item the previous year. As I said, I do not recall, nor can I find in the minutes, where a specific dollar amount for renovations was discussed or approved by any standing committee or the full commission.


August 22. 2017, in the Financial Management meeting, Robert Daniel relayed a report from John Davis on Regions and stated the plans for the 1st floor which will contain the Clerk and Trustee's offices were complete. the Basement plans which will house the Registrar and Election offices were still in design development and the 2nd and 3rd floors were in schematic design. Robert further stated that once the basement plans are complete, renovations will begin starting with the basement and move upward.


January 23, 2018, during the Financial Management Committee meeting, it was announced the plans for the basement were complete and bids had been requested from 10 contractors but only 2 submitted bids. the lowest bid from Lee Adcock Construction was $204,000 more than the $520,000 set aside fro renovations in the current budget. A budget amendment adding this $204,000 to the renovation budget was passed unanimously and with virtually no discussion by the Financial Management Committee and will be up for vote by the full Commission on February 13, 2018.


Also, On January 23, 2018, the Courthouse and Property Committee (along with the other standing committees) met after the finance committee in make-up sessions, the regular scheduled meetings of the prior week having been cancelled due to snow. In the C&P meeting, we asked Robert about why the committee had not been shown the plans prior to being bid and was told that it was up to the Mayor to design and bid the work. 


Since these last meetings and the story in the T-G on additional costs, I was informed the design on the basement level was not only inadequate for the Elections office, it may be in violation of certain laws governing how the election process is to be conducted.