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Thursday, April 29, 2010

County Commission Deals With Several Important Issues: Meeting of Tuesday, April 27

By Sid Riley

The County Commission made decisions on several key issues, and took steps to move several other issues forward toward eventual conclusion. This article will highlight the key items covered at Tuesday evening’s session.

Joint Session with Tourist Development Commission-
A joint session of these two commissions was held from 4:00-5:30 PM, prior to the regular County Commission meeting which began at 6:00 PM. The purpose of this joint meeting was to discuss a proposed major change in direction of the use of TDC funds, and the possible creation of a new Tourism Director position.

The change in direction involves abandoning the objective of constructing a $6 million dollar convention center, and redirecting those funds into increased advertising of the attractions within Jackson County, and creation of a full time Tourism Director position. This new Director would be totally engaged in promotion of tourism for our area, developing all avenues of advertising and promotion, and improving the effectiveness of monies spent by the TDC for tourism.

Since the convention center project was approved, along with an additional 2% in bed tax charged to visitors to our area, almost one million dollars has been accumulated for the convention center fund. After discussion, it was decided that the legality of continuing the existing 2% extra tax even though the funds will not be used for the new facility must be determined. This ruling will then influence the advisability of creating the Tourism Director position. The boards agreed to meet again after this determination has been made.

Approval of major paving program through issuance of $10,000,000 tax free bonds. County Manager Ted Lakey and the Commission feel that the time is ripe for engaging in a major road paving program. The interest rates are low, and the cost of having work performed is also at a low point, since many contractors are in desperate need of projects.

For these reasons, the Board is seriously considering entering into a bond financing agreement to accomplish a major roads improvements program. At the meeting, the financial consultant who has been hired to assist the county in these processes, Jim Gollahon, presented several financing options to the board. After discussion and evaluation, the board instructed Mr. Gollahon to proceed in negotiations with banks and bonding companies for a ten year financing plan, and a twelve year plan…both for ten million dollars. The results of these negotiations will be presented in thirty days.

Purchase of available downtown buildings – Two downtown buildings are under evaluation for purchase by the county. These are the Supervisor of Elections building which is currently being leased for approximately $35,000 per year, and the Lewis building which abuts the existing County Admin facility. Commissioners had previously directed County Manager Ted Lakey to have inspections performed on these facilities for structural problems and hazardous materials. The results of these inspections were presented to the Board by Lakey at this meeting.

After evaluating the report on the Supervisor of Elections building, the Board instructed Lakey to proceed with final negotiations and preparation of a sales contract. The purchase of this building will have about a seven year payback from the existing cost of leasing.

The report on the Lewis Building revealed a few problem areas, including the need for a new roof, and the presence of some asbestos materials in the vinyl flooring in one area, and in the joint compound in some sheetrock walls. They instructed Lakey to engage in further negotiations on this property, taking these issues into consideration.

Approval of Public Works Program and Hiring of Additional Security Officer – Several months ago Judge Woodrow Hatcher ordered discontinuance of the use of prisoners for public works for the county and cities. He took this action out of fear for public safety, after several incidences arose which were the result of inadequate supervision of the inmates while on work details. Historically, the work performed by these inmates has saved the county and involved municipalities over a million dollars per year.

Hatcher created a committee comprised of key private citizens and public officials, chaired by retired Air Force General Jim Hart, to make recommendations for correcting the inadequacies of the previous system. This committee developed finite procedures for selection of inmates, training of security, control of activities, and use of the workers. The committee also recommended that the county add one additional guard to supervise these activities.

At this Board meeting the panel adopted the recommendations of the committee, and approved hiring of the additional guard.
Approved Attempt at Mediation of Needed Repairs for Mold at New Emergency Operations Center Building - The unresolved dispute over liability for the ongoing problems at the new EOC building is continuing to heat up. The issue has been caused by a persistent mold problem which exists in the overhead ceiling areas in some portions of the building. This has migrated to a point where it is visible in some locations on ceiling tiles and walls.

The county engaged an independent consultant to examine the situation, while the contractor and the architectural company hired their own consulting mold expert. The resulting reports from these examinations were as different as day and night. The county’s consultant said the problem was severe, was caused by poorly designed air flow systems associated with the air conditioning, and would require extensive (and expensive) clean up, redesign, and reconstruction work to the structure. Meanwhile the consultant engaged by the involved companies said it was a normal, trivial problem and only needed a little bleach water and elbow grease to eliminate the mold. During all of this discourse the County’s position is “we paid for a new, beautiful, well designed building….and that is what we expect to get for the money’.

At Tuesday’s meeting a mediation meeting with an independent judge was ordered by the Commission. Commissioner Lockey will represent the County at the mediation meeting. If the parties cannot agree on a satisfactory plan of remedial action, legal action will surly follow. The architectural company is the local firm of Paul Donofro and Associates, and the construction company is Whiterock Construction.
Purchase of $1,000,000 in new equipment for Roads and Bridges - Director of Roads and Bridges, Al Green, submitted a request to the Board to use unspent FEMA funds totaling approximately $700,000 plus monies realized from the sale of used equipment to purchase approximately one million dollars worth of new road equipment. This includes four new graders, two new back hoes, four equipment trailers, a mini-excavator, and special attachments for dump trucks to use in repair of drop offs. After discussion, the request was approved.
Acceptance of River Forest Road Sidewalk - County Engineer, Larry Alvarez stated that the new sidewalk on River Forest Road is now complete and has passed final inspection. The Board approved final acceptance and final payment to the contractor.
Approved Bid for New Sidewalk on Old Spanish Trail - Awarded contract to Semper FI for low bid of $272,458. Approved Proceeding with Demolition of Old Work Camp Facility – The commission received a report of requirements related to the demolition and disposal of the old work camp building on Pelt Street in Marianna. The building contains materials which are classified as ‘hazardous materials’ by the FDEP, and thus must be processed using elaborate, and costly certified handlers and disposal techniques. The Board instructed staff to proceed with the demolition.

Approved Tea Party ‘National Day of Prayer’ ceremony at Court House Lawn - The ceremony will be held at 5:30 PM on Thursday, May 6. Public is encouraged to attend.

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