Monday’s meeting of the Blount County Commission covered a variety of issues ranging from typical administrative items to serious discussions on the best way to move forward with the building that serves as the heart of the county. The problems with the current Blount County Courthouse are well documented.
Every square inch is utilized with nowhere to grow. The heating and cooling units are old yet replacing them is next to impossible. All of the wiring and pipes within the walls are only accessible by tearing them down. One fix leads to another problem and so on.
On Monday, though, probate Judge and county commission chairman Chris Green expressed his concerns on moving forward so quickly with plans to repurpose and create a new county facility out of the current agribusiness center. The commission has moved at warp speed with this concept since July when the plan was first discussed.
Last Thursday, Lathan & Associates presented the first renderings of the project along with the first estimates of how much it would cost. Initial estimates were in the $10 million range giving the commission flexibility and the ability to build a new agribusiness and economic development complex as well as make necessary renovations to the Frank Green Building.
But, the price tag discussed in Thursday’s work session was closer to $12 million and that was without the needed second floor to accommodate the court system. Green also pointed out that it didn’t include cost of creating the parking areas or the architectural costs that would be incurred.
“In reality, the $12 million would not be the total cost,” he said. “For the parking and other costs, it would easily be $13.2 million just on that one project, and we still have all of these other projects.
“I really just think we need to slow down to make sure we are getting everything right. A plan does need to be in place to address the needs of this county. But, I do have concerns that are weighing on me. We haven’t gathered public feedback. We haven’t put ideas out there. We’ve had no public hearing. We need to gather feedback to help us make good and sound decisions.”
Increasing a bond to $15 million would mean yearly payments in the $700,000 range instead of the $600,000 for which they had been planning. “The amount of revenue needed to make those payments makes me uncomfortable,” Green continued.
District 1 Commissioner Allen Armstrong agreed. “It’s going to hurt too many of our other budgets. I think we just have to put on the brakes to make sure we are doing the right thing. I am not comfortable with the numbers and this is too big to not ask for public input.”
Also in agreement was District 4 Commissioner Nick Washburn. He asked about the possibility of setting aside money now that could be used to help when the time comes to move forward, “but we need to hear from the public before we do this.”
District 2 Commissioner Mike Painter, however, was concerned that by waiting the already high price tag would be even higher because of rising costs associated with construction and materials along with the potential for higher interest rates. “We know the interest rate won’t get any lower,” he said. “I really do feel like we have to move forward and that it will be a mistake if we don’t.”
Before entertaining a motion as to how to proceed, Green offered one last comment on the subject. “I am very much in favor of this project, but we have to make sure that this is a project that will serve our county well into the future.
“I regret that timing has not allowed us to have any public meetings. Educating the public on the needs of this current facility and the need for a new facility is something we cannot overlook. In our exuberance to get this done quickly, we have excluded the people of Blount County.”
Armstrong made the motion to table the matter to allow for public input and to allow more time study the project. Washburn seconded the motion and it carried.
Other items that garnered a great deal of discussion centered on the establishment of a public records policy. Green said, after previous discussions concerning requests for public records, he felt it would be in the commission’s best interest to establish a policy, and “I believe we should follow the directives of the state code.” He said if documents are already available electronically, there would be no cost for them to be emailed. Also, if it does not take an employee any longer than one hour to gather the materials, Green said there would be no charge. For any request that exceeds one hour, the charge for the documents would be $1 per page. The commission approved the policy.
The commission discussed the issues involving public comment on the commission’s live stream of meetings with county administrator John Bullard providing pros and cons of Facebook Live and YouTube. Armstrong stated that he didn’t have any problem sharing the meetings across both platforms. Painter, however, wanted to move forward with only YouTube. Washburn wanted to push out a survey to see which option the people wanted.
Painter made a motion to use only YouTube for live streaming of commission meetings. There was no second so the motion died. Washburn made a motion that the commission create a survey to gather feedback. Armstrong seconded and the motion passed on a 2-1 vote.
Another item of note from Monday’s meeting was the approval of a CARES Act funding request to purchase a Tek 84 body scanner for the Blount County Correctional Facility. The scanner will give officials the ability to conduct body scans to ensure that no contraband enters or leaves the facility.
In other matters, the commission:
• approved the storm damage reimbursement policy.
• authorized the chairman to execute rental contracts at the Family Services Mall set to expire in November.
• reappointed Michelle Adamson to the Blount/St. Clair 310 board.
• approved agreements with municipalities for municipal inmates.
• transferred a 1997 Ford truck from the IT department back to D-4 to be declared surplus and sold by best legal means possible.
• declared surplus D-1 assets 2006 Chevrolet Colorado truck and 1996 Ford F250 service truck and authorized receiving sealed bids.
• approved limited door access for Family Services Center per Judge Sherry Burns’ request.
• approved giving equal amounts of the $9,000 returned to the commission by the Blount-Oneonta Chamber of Commerce to the Blount County Sheriff’s Department and the Disaster Reimbursement Plan.
Reports from engineer
• approved Resolution 2020-10-01 in support of Rebuild Alabama ATRIP II application for safety improvements at the intersection of County Highway 26 and Ala 75.
• approved Resolution 2020-10-02 in support of Rebuild Alabama Annual Grant Program application for resurfacing County Highway 45.
• approved reimbursement of Rebuild Alabama Grant Project funds to D2 for work completed on Royal-Liberty Road, Williams Settlement Road, portion of Noland Loop, CR-30, and CR-38 in the amount of $2,325.00.
• approved a $15,769.62 transfer from CRAF fund to District 3 for CR-42 project.
Ed Note: This marked the last meeting for Commissioner Painter. We might not have always seen eye-to-eye, but he served the people of District 2 well and he has served all of Blount County well. He and Brenda have devoted much time to helping Blount County be a better place and I applaud him on a job well done. -aw