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County officials question cost of new tourism office


Jason Browne



On the cusp of purchasing its new office space, the Columbus Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau has hit another snag. 


Interim CVB Director Nancy Carpenter appeared before the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors Tuesday to request approval of the CVB''s purchase. The CVB plans to borrow $510,000 from BancorpSouth to pay the remainder of $734,000 for the purchase of a portion of the bottom floor of a new building at the corner of College Street and Third Street South. 


The only problem is the property was appraised at $600,000, meaning the CVB will pay $134,000 above appraised value. 


Although the county isn''t repaying the CVB''s loan, as a matter of state statute the board of supervisors and the Columbus City Council must both grant permission for the purchase. However, the supervisors aren''t allowed to purchase anything for more than appraised value, so there are questions as to whether it can give an agency under its purview permission to do the same. 


"If it requires our approval, then I think we have a problem," said Board of Supervisors Attorney Tim Hudson. 


The supervisors eventually tabled the issue until its Feb. 28 meeting and asked Hudson to research the legal options, but only after some head scratching. 


District 1 Supervisor and Board President Harry Sanders asked Carpenter why the CVB agreed to pay more than the appraised value for the property. Carpenter parried the question by stating the decision was made before she took over following James Tsismanakis'' departure at the end of January. 


Carpenter also pointed out that the amount of the loan in question was for less than the appraised value of the completed property and the agreed price includes custom flooring and cabinets not included in the appraisal. The CVB already paid $224,000 toward the property. 


Stewart Stafford, who appraised the building for BancorpSouth, said the appraisal included "what (the CVB) would leave behind if they sell it." 


Hudson said Wednesday he''d been in contact with attorney David Dunn who is attempting to determine if the supervisors'' approval is required in this instance. 


"If we have to approve it then we have to follow the same guidelines on all (purchases)," said Hudson. "These are tax funds. I don''t think anybody on the board feels comfortable saying ''Here, spend the money.''" 


The CVB will repay the loan with funds provided by a 2 percent restaurant tax. 


Just last week the CVB saw the resolution of a dispute between the city council and board of supervisors regarding the composition of the CVB Board of Directors. The standoff reached a head Jan. 31 when the supervisors vacated their appointments to the CVB board and voted not to make new appointments, preventing a quorum and creating doubt regarding the future of the lucrative 2 percent tax. 


The supervisors relented based on an understanding with Mayor Robert Smith that the council would likely agree with a compromise settlement, which it did. The county appointed three new members to the CVB board, who are scheduled to be installed tonight. The city will name its three appointments at its March 1 meeting.




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