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With finances rapidly improving, county eyes options for facilities

With its financial picture brightening almost daily, the Lamar County commission is looking at options for updated facilities. One of those options is the purchase of the old Fred’s building which is sandwiched between Veterans Parkway and Murphey Avenue in Barnesville. The Fred’s option was discussed at length June 3 at a workshop meeting held at the administration building which figures prominently in the facilities dilemma. THE BUILDINGS: Pending due diligence, the commission expects to consider a resolution to buy the Fred’s building at its next meeting which is set for June 18. The building sits on 6.72 acres and is owned by Barnesville Perlmix. The LLC lists its address of record as a post office box in Cordele. Its registered agent is Charles M. Mixon of Atlanta. Mixon has offered the 22,222 square foot building for sale at $60 per square foot or $1,333,320. That proposal does not include two out parcels on the acreage. Some 6,000 square feet of the building is currently occupied by American Pie, 1st Franklin Financial and Georgia Roots Boutique. Those three tenants pay about $50,000 per year in rent. The remaining 16,222 square feet was left vacant when Fred’s folded its tent three years ago. The county would renovate that portion at a projected cost of $75 per square foot or $1,216,650. County administrator Sean Townsend said the renovation figure is current and based on two similar projects underway in other area counties. Still, the county is building in a 20% contingency for unexpected costs, making the total budget for the project $3,059,964. The estimate to build a new building of the same size is estimated at $5,666,610. The county could move the current tenants out when their leases expire and grow into those spaces or continue to collect the rent and apply it to the costs. The Fred’s building was built in 2003-2004 making it 80 years younger than the current administration building in the old Thomaston Street barracks which was built in 1924. The condition of that 9,375 square foot building is declining and its foundation is sinking, making it untenable for the long haul. Under the initial concept, the Fred’s building would eventually house the county’s administrative offices and meeting room, the elections board (and election equipment storage), the tax assessors office, the tax commissioner’s office, the planning and development office and the county extension office. The Emergency Management Agency would move to the current tax commissioner’s office on Hwy. 36 West at Country Kitchen Road and be joined there by the E911 Center, which is currently housed in the jail building. With the main fire station next door, that would create a public safety operations center. Once the new recreation gym, a current SPLOST project which is in the planning stages now, is built and county extension relocated, the county could raze the old Barnesville Academy building and gym which are near uninhabitable at present. Those buildings date back to 1950. The current administrative building could be leased to DFCS and the Soil & Water Conservation District or sold to a developer. The old First Federal building, adjacent to the United Bank drive-thru operation off Greenwood Street, is also owned by the county. Until recently, it was occupied by the drug court operation. That building could be sold with United Bank being mentioned as a possible buyer. The commissioners were in general agreement facilities need to be addressed. ‘It is clear we have to do something. Our buildings are old plus we are outgrowing them,’ noted commissioner Nancy Thrash who suggested insurance costs be figured into the scenario. THE MONEY: The commissioners discussed a lease purchase program available via ACCG through which the county could borrow $3 million over 10 years at an interest rate of two percent. Townsend noted the county could use its fund balance for a down payment and likely still not have to use its TAN line of credit. Townsend was lauded for his tightening up of the county’s finances which has almost eliminated the need for TAN funds. Due to skyrocketing home prices and the resultant tax assessments which, by state statute, must mirror them, the county could see an increase in tax revenues of $124 million during the next fiscal year. ‘The biggest increase I have ever seen is about $21 million,’ Townsend said of the potential windfall. Both the county, its municipalities and the school board are also seeing record incomes from the various local option sales taxes due to population growth and the tax stream from online sales which opened up, also via state statute, in the last two to three years. The county currently has little debt. It owes some money on a fire truck but SPLOST is paying that off. The only current capital project is new windows for the courthouse. That effort has been delayed due to the ongoing materials shortage. Townsend said he expects that shortage to ease in the fall. The new gym and the animal shelter are current SPLOST projects with animal shelter construction buoyed by an ongoing fund drive by volunteers. The shelter is in the initial design stages at present. THE TAXPAYER: Property owners have been hit hard by reassessments but relief is on the way for them. ’We need to look at property tax relief for our taxpayers when we do the budget. I don’t know if that would be a rollback or how it would come about,’ Thrash noted. ’When the digest numbers come in later this month, our millage rate will go down. The school board will probably lower its millage rate, too,’ Townsend concluded.

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