Commissioners to consider alternate expansion plan Tuesday

By BRUCE ALSOBROOK, News-Telegram Managing Editor

May 25, 2008 - Hopkins County Commissioners Court will discuss a proposal by a state district judge for an alternate plan to expand governmental offices at a meeting scheduled for Tuesday.

The agenda for Tuesday's meeting of the court, scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday in the meeting room on the first floor of the courthouse, includes an item calling for discussion of a proposal presented in March by Eighth Judicial District Judge Robert Newsom regarding the Fidelity Express building on Jefferson Street.

In a separate agenda item, the court is to also discuss and/or act on the possible sale of the Fidelity Express building.

The property, located east of the courthouse across Oak Avenue, was purchased a little over a year ago by the county for $1.29 million. Another $1.7 million has been budgeted for remodeling of the approximately 20,000 feet of office and storage space, as well as construction of a new parking lot south of the county jail. The county would be able to begin the work after Fidelity completes its move to the new facility constructed next to parent company GSC Enterprises.

The original plan called for the county to use the Fidelity building for new courtrooms and other county offices, such as the county clerk and possibly an elections administrator's office.

In March, however, Eighth Judicial District Judge Robert Newsom presented alternate plan for expansion that he said could end up costing the county less money, or no additional money, and provide more safety while helping consolidate some county offices.

Newsom's proposal called for constructing a new facility for courts north of the county jail, thus limiting the public's exposure to inmates being transported to court for trial.

Newsom also asked commissioners to consider an offer from a local business to purchase the Fidelity Express property for the amount the county paid for it. According to Newsom, the offer would clear the debt incurred to buy the Fidelity Express building and land, plus give the county two buildings located just north of the jail.

The two extra buildings could house the district and county clerk's offices with only minimal repairs.

Newsom also proposed a jail addition, which he said could generate revenue if the county would contract with other governmental entities to house their inmates for a fee. Newsom also said the county could use inmate labor to save on construction costs.

Hopkins County Judge Cletis Millsap said this week he still strongly supports the use of the Fidelity Express building for county office expansion, due in large part to the fact that the county only had to pay $60 per square foot for the office space, which he considers an incredible bargain, especially considering the location.

Even with the costs of remodeling, Millsap said, the county will save a tremendous amount of money per square foot when compared to constructing a new building.

Millsap also said constructing a new court facility north of the county jail would put the building even farther away from the courthouse. (One of the goals stated by both sides is to bring county offices closer together physically.)

Millsap also said the sale of the Fidelity building could create certain other problems. The contract signed by the county, for example, has a provision covering the first few years of ownership requiring the county to pay extra to Fidelity Express should the county sell the property for more than it paid.

Millsap said Fidelity Express officials knew the company could have sold the property for more than it got from Hopkins County, but chose to take a lower figure to help the county.

The regular meeting had to be moved from it's normal date on the fourth Monday of the month to Tuesday due to the Memorial Day holiday. The meeting is open to the public..

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