Ball fields: Going, going, gone

Published 11:59 pm Monday, April 13, 2009

Two county properties — the land previously set aside for a joint city-county sports complex and the USDA Service Center office building — will be sold in an effort to help alleviate some of the county’s financial strain.

Commissioners voted Monday to allow county administrator Brenda Petty to “beef up advertising” and to prepare a bid package for each of the properties.

“We’ve got to do something,” Chairman Lynn Sasser said after the meeting. “We need to generate some kind of revenue or we’re going to be faced with some tough decisions.”

The 12,303 square-foot USDA building, which was appraised at $1 million, sits on four acres and is equipped with four tenant office areas, a meeting room, a 75-seat auditorium, kitchen and restroom facilities. By selling the building, the county could save nearly $40,000 in budgeted expenses alone, according to the 2008-2009 fiscal year budget.

The “ball field property” — the 78 acres located behind the Kiwanis Building — is valued at $255,000 and was initially purchased in the hope it would become home to an estimated 15 baseball fields for area youth.

An $800,000 appropriation in a 2005 bond issue was designated for the project, but that money was redirected last year for capital improvement projects, including a new roof at the Covington County Courthouse.

In December, Petty was given the authorization for the property appraisals and recently began running an ad in The Star-News designed to gauge potential interest in the properties.

“So far, we’ve had no contact from the ads,” Petty said. “What I need from you is some direction on where to go from here — maybe beef up the advertising and prepare a bid package.”

Before giving Petty the authorization to continue, Commissioner Carl Turman said he’d received calls pertaining to the “ball field” property.

“I’ve had two calls saying that if we sell the property, we have to give certain people back their money,” Turman said. “There were some people who donated money so that the property could be bought.”

Petty said an estimated $15,000 was given in donations “10 to 12 years ago” and it would have to be researched to determine who had donated and how much had been donated.

“Giving it back, that’s the right thing to do,” Turman said.

Petty later said when the properties are sold, those funds would be placed in an escrow account.

“Because both of those properties were purchased with bond money, we would have to set (any money from the sales) aside to retire the debt on them — which is exactly what we need to do,” she said. “The way it helps the cash flow, is the debt on those properties is paid now with general fund money. When they’re sold, we take that monthly debt’s service payment, which is roughly $20,000 a month, and pay it out of the escrow account, instead of the general fund. So it frees up that money.”

In other business, the commission:

announced it would seek federal aid funds to repair County Road 27, also known as Odom Road, to State Hwy. 29 and County Road 27, also known as Open Pond Road, to State Hwy. 137 West.

rejected bids for the reroofing of the courthouse and announced it will seek new bidders for the project.