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County bangs out details on new offices, health dept.


Neal Wagner



Several Lowndes County administrative offices soon may have a new home, members of the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors announced during a Monday meeting. 


During the meeting, the board voted to make a $950,000 offer to Cadence Bank to purchase the former First Federal bank building near the intersection of Main Street and 12th Street North.  


If the offer is accepted, the building will be used to house the county tax assessor''s office and several other county administrative offices, like the payroll department and appraisal office. The offices currently are housed in the Lowndes County Courthouse. 


If the administrative building is secured, the extra space at the courthouse will be used to expand the chancery clerk, circuit clerk and district attorney''s offices. 


Although the county is offering Cadence Bank $950,000 for the building, renovations to the building and moving the offices across town could add as much as $550,000 to the project, according to District 1 Supervisor and Board President Harry Sanders. 


"That estimate is on the high end of what we expect the entire project to cost," said Sanders. 


If the offer is accepted, the project likely would be funded with a portion of the $4.5 million in interest the county has collected from Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle, said Lowndes County Administrator Ralph Billingsley. 


The board''s decision to make an offer on the building came shortly before board members made plans to discuss the possible new administrative building and several other upcoming projects during a special meeting at 9 a.m. Thursday at the courthouse. 


During the Thursday meeting, the board will discuss a list of proposed projects, like purchasing land for the upcoming county sportsplex project and possibly building a new Justice Court building. 




Vying for a timetable 


"If you put a timetable on these projects, it just flows so much easier in the long run," said District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks, who suggested Thursday''s meeting. "We all need to be on the same page with these projects. 


"We don''t just need you to go up there and compile a list of projects with what you think the projects are going to cost," Brooks said to Sanders. "The county administrator and engineer needs input from all five people on this board. If you all ran your businesses like you do the county, we''d be bankrupt right now." 


Although Brooks criticized Sanders for compiling the proposed project list without consulting other board members, Sanders said he attempted to keep everyone abreast of his work. 


"Everyone on this board has been made aware of what''s going on through this whole process, whether you want to admit it or not," Sanders said. "We are moving in the right direction with all of these projects. The health department is basically ready to go, and the administrative building and the new Justice Court building are coming up real fast." 




Plans for new health department 


During Thursday''s meeting, the board also is expected to make the upcoming health department construction project "ready to go" by purchasing a plot of land for the building. 


Although the county previously planned to purchase an about 2-acre plot of land off Chubby Drive in North Columbus to construct a health department to replace the more than 50-year-old current facility on Military Road, an IRS tax lien against property owner Don DePriest will keep the county from buying the land, said County Administrator Ralph Billingsley. 


"With that land, we ran into a number of problems that will make us unable to buy that land at this time," said Billingsley. "We really need to move on this soon if we are going to have it built before the grant money expires in August 2010." 


Now, the board must chose between land near the corner of Lehmberg Road and Warpath Road, on Martin Luther King Drive near the county jail, on North McCrary Road and Hemlock Street or property near Ceco Building Systems on Highway 45 North. 


Each of the alternate properties carry a price tag between $125,000 and $230,000 for 2 acres. 


"I think you could postpone the decision until Thursday, but Thursday has to be it if we''re going to get this project off the ground in time," Billingsley told the board. 




Other matters 


In other business, the board: 


n Approved a motion to apply for a $1.6 million U.S. Economic Development Administration grant to complete infrastructure construction on an upcoming development near the intersection of 18th Avenue and Sixth Street. 


Once completed, the development, owned by local developer Mark Castleberry, will include a shopping center and two hotels. Although Castleberry has had the development "shovel ready" for a few months, unforeseen infrastructure needs are preventing him from moving forward with the project, said Columbus Federal Programs Director George Irby. 


"The $1.6 million will be used to complete infrastructure at the site. Namely, an access road and bridge on the property. Mark has told me if he can get that, the project will be ready to go." said Irby. "They don''t usually give grants to retail developments like this, but they have some stimulus money. 


"We do have to meet some criteria, though, and I think putting a convention center in that development would meet that criteria," Irby added, explaining the development must contain some entrepreneurial aspect to be considered for the grant. "That way, entrepreneurs could use the convention center to come in and sell their wares from time to time." 


n Accepted a $321,498 bid from Lowndes County-based Site Masters Construction to overlay Manufacturers Drive in west-central Lowndes County. 


The county will use state-aid advance credits to fund the project, and will pay back the credits after four years, the board said. 


n Agreed to purchase a pair of radio repeaters in north and south Lowndes County. 


The repeaters will boost the signal of emergency responders'' hand-held radios in a few radio "dead spots" throughout the county, Billingsley explained. 


Although the county has a $25,320 quote from Columbus-based Teletec Communications to complete the project, state law requires the county to retrieve at least one other quote before purchasing the repeaters. 


"This money is not in the budget, but I think you should amend the budget to fill the gaps in our emergency communications system," said Billingsley. "These dead spots have created dangerous situations in the past, and they have the potential to create more issues in the future."




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