County set to take sale of Fidelity Express building off the table

By BRUCE ALSOBROOK, News-Telegram Managing Editor

July 13, 2008 - A plan to sell a building purchased by Hopkins County in 2007 for county offices could be taken off the table at a Monday meeting of the county's elected leaders.

An item on the agenda of Monday's Hopkins County Commissioners Court meeting lists discussion and possible action on taking the possible sale of the old Fidelity Express building at 128 Jefferson St. off the table. The possibility of selling the property was tabled during a May 27 meeting of the court.

At that time, Precinct 1 Commissioner Beth Wisenbaker made a proposal to set up workshops to discuss plans to expand county office space. The deicision was made at a regular court meeting when the county's governing panel was slated to discuss a proposal by District Judge Robert Newsom to build a new court facility next to the county jail, and also expand the jail.

Newsom's plan would also have called for the sale of the Fidelity Express building, which the county bought in early 2007 after developing a plan to use the property to house new courtrooms and offices, such as the county and district clerk.

Some of the elected judges and officials who would have moved into the Fidelity building after it was remodeled, however, balked at the plan, and the commissioners court itself was at a "stalemate" on what to do.

Hopkins County Judge Cletis Millsap said Friday he expects the commissioners court to vote against the sale of the Fidelity building.

"We have decided to give it an up or down vote because we need to go ahead and utilize this office space, because it has such an effect on our upcoming budget," Millsap said.

He said the move to the Fidelity building and its 20,000 square feet of room for offices would eliminate some $43,000 the county pays to rent space for other offices, such as the county clerk's, which is now housed in the old Sulphur Springs Loan and Building Association headquarters on North Davis Street.

Millsap also said he has been told Newsom is going to "abandon" his plan for the county to build a new court facility near the jail, as well as expanding the jail. He made the original proposal in December, suggesting the plan would be safer and could actually cost less than the Fidelity property. The proposal, however, hinged on the sale of the Fidelity building.

Millsap had long argued, however, that the price paid for the Fideilty Express building was a bargain, and that obligations to pay off bonds, as well as contractual agreeements, would have made selling the property a difficult issue.

The county judge expects the county clerk's office and a county court will be located in the new property, while the district clerk and district courtrooms will remain at the county courthouse building.

"We need to keep Fidelity Express site because it allows to keep county offices in one locations, and because of the we can utilize office space we so desparately need for the future," Millsap added.

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