County: To buy or not to buy?

Published 12:04 am Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Covington County’s commissioners met in a workshop Monday morning with stakeholders from the courthouse to discuss the possibility of buying an office building currently owned by Greg White.

White’s office building, formerly the dental offices of King and Burkhardt, is approximately 3,000 square feet, and the asking price is $218,000. The county owns the buildings on either side of the office, and uses each of the other two to house records.

Godwin said the county will soon be out of storage space, and more office space also is needed in the courthouse. Because the probate office has $40,000 set aside for housing voting machines, he said, it is possible that money could be put toward the purchase, and a portion of the building partitioned for the machines.

Godwin also listed Probate Judge Ben Bowden’s need for a hearing room as another potential use of part of the space.

Bowden suggested the commission needed to work out who would move before purchasing the building.

“You can rent a place for a long time for storage,” Bowden said. “There are a lot of things you can do for storage other than buy a nice office building.

“To alleviate real pressure in the courthouse, some agency has got to go over there,” Bowden said. “If nobody is willing to volunteer, can’t be enticed, they can’t be forced to do it.

“I don’t want my business separated,” Bowden said. “Everybody can come up with a reason to say they can’t be the one to move over there.”

Circuit Judge Lex Short suggested that the manpower in pardons and paroles is expected to increase if proposed prison reform legislation is passed, and more space may be needed.

But Jeff Jeter said parole officers provide a lot of back-up security in the courthouse.

“My officers have fought juveniles in court, people in divorce court, and generally provided security,” he said. “But we’ll move if you want us to move.”

Circuit Clerk Amy Jones said her office needs to be near the courts, and Revenue Commissioner Janice Hart said her office needs access to deeds and records in the probate office.

Judge Short suggested that the old jail, located adjacent to the courthouse be considered.

“If we renovate it for office space, I’ll move over there tomorrow,” he said.

County maintenance director Kevin Kennedy said all the electrical and plumbing in the jail is in concrete walls.

“Everything would have to be built separate,” he said.

Sheriff Dennis Meeks didn’t like that idea.

“We need to see about getting that thing off the (historic) registry and tear it down like we should have in 1995.”

Commissioner Carl Turman said, “If you tear the jail down, get ready to be lynched.”

Commissioner Harold Elmore suggested building additional storage adjacent to the county administration building. Commissioner Joe Barton, who favors restoring the old jail for office space, agreed the building storage space was probably a more cost-efficient idea.

“It may be the best deal in town, but if you can’t afford it, you can’t afford it,” he said.

“Not long ago, we were talking about laying employees off,” Elmore said. “Now we’re talking about spending $200,000 on a building.”

Commissioner Kenneth Northey said he didn’t think the building would be an attractive buy for anyone other than the county, but Godwin said White has someone interested in leasing it.

Electronic property tax records show the appraised value as $147,790. Tax appraisals are generally less than fair market value of property.

Godwin asked that commissioners consider spending the $400 to $500 needed to have the property appraised. The item is expected to be on the agenda next week.