In the Courthouse and Property Committee tonight, I shared some of my research into the actions surrounding the old Regions Bank building and we clarified a few things. Last week, in the full Commission meeting, I made the motion to defer the vote on a $204,000 budget amendment to provide me a little more time to complete my research and return the discussion to the Courthouse and Property Committee where it belongs.
1) The Called Study Session Meeting, which Mayor Ray called, will be held next Monday, Feb 26 at 5:00 pm inside the EMA building (same building as DMV -drivers license- drive thru the gate, park in the back and use the side door) is purely a study session where the architect, John Davis, will be available to answer questions. in a Study Session, NO voting may occur, so NO decisions will be made. The public is invited, and I say, encouraged to attend. Come on out !
2) In November 2012 Mayor Ray was quoted in the Times-Gazette as saying the County was not interested in buying the building, BUT the County voted to buy the building on Jan 8, 2013 for $325,000 plus costs, from Pat Marsh, who had just purchased it in an online auction. The building was never deeded to Rep. Marsh. It was also reported that former Commissioner, J.D. "Bo" Wilson who was a member of the Financial Management Committee at the time, was in private negotiations with Rep. Marsh prior to the auction because the County did not want to reveal what the County was willing to pay for the building. ( it isn't clear if the Mayor, full commission or finance committee was aware or involved in this negotiation )
3) To find out the rest of the story, I searched the archives of the Times-Gazette and also read through 6 years worth of minutes from the County Commission, Property Committee and Finance Committee. Even though several Commissioners, including me, asked, dozens of times, in Finance and the Courthouse and Property committees about the progress of the project, including request for plans, quotes, etc... nothing was ever presented to the C&P Committee. In January 2018, we are told "the bids are in and we need another $204,000 to match the bid of $724,000 to remodel 2 floors". How did we go from "what are we doing" to "here it is" ?
4) The thing that jumped out at me while going through this exercise was, not one time in 6 years did the Commission vote on how to use the building they bought, not once in 6 years did the Commission vote to spend a specific amount of money to renovate the building. The only thing that might be construed as a vote, was within a line item in the general budget for building maintenance, which was questioned by Commissioner Farrar in June 2017. He was told a portion of that line item ($500,000) was for Regions, but we did not explore that issue any further at that time. I assumed, as I believe most did, that that was the cost to renovate the entire building. Who actually decided it was ok to do this? The Finance Director only has authority to spend $25,000 without Commission approval. So how was $520,000 set aside in the budget to begin with?
5) EMPTY OFFICES !! The office complex on Dover street has a lot of empty suites (multiple rooms in a suite). When the Justice Center is complete the Courthouse will be almost empty. The entire 3rd floor which houses Chancellor Cox, Clerk & Master Curt Cobb and the assistants... will be empty. The 2nd floor which houses the Circuit Court Clerk and all assistants... will be empty. The first floor which houses the State DA offices.. will be empty, except for the Mayor's office. What will the County do with all this space? I strongly believe we should concentrate on utilizing our existing spaces and preserving our historic courthouse before we spend any money to expand offices.
5) The money being proposed to be spent on renovation comes from litigation taxes and is reserved for use on the repair of the courthouse (or annex). It supposedly cannot be spent on new construction, which prevents it from being used on the new Justice Center. I say use it on the actual courthouse !
6) Although this reserved money may not be able to be used directly on the Justice Center, it is a fact we will be millions of dollars above the budgeted 33 million dollars set aside to build the Justice Center. We have NO estimate of site improvements which must include roads and at least 1 bridge. We have NO estimates of furnishings and equipment costs. We have NO staffing analysis for the jail. It is a given we will need many more Corrections officers, and we can't staff our jail now.
It makes absolutely no sense to spend more money while we have the Justice Center yet to begin construction and Cascade High School construction incomplete. I see no reason for the urgency in expanding County office space right now.
Common sense folks...