Commission votes to take Plaza if SCABC fails

Published 9:48 am Thursday, July 12, 2012

By Fred Guarino
The Lowndes Signal

The Lowndes County Commission voted Monday to take possession of the Hayneville Plaza if the South Central Alabama Broadband Commission (SCABC) Project is terminated July 23.

The commission also voted to send a letter to the Alabama Board of Realtors regarding requested information from appraiser Ray Rossell of Appraisals Now in Montgomery related to the appraisal of the Hayneville Plaza.

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Trillion Communications is the grant recipient for the $86 million project to construct 2,200 miles of fiber optic broadband network in Butler, Crenshaw, Conecuh, Dallas, Escambia, Lowndes, Macon and Wilcox counties.

The project has been suspended for evaluation by the U.S. Department of Commerce since February.

“Mr. Chairman, since I understand that there is a problem with the broadband (project), I would like to make a motion that the county take over the possession of the building (Hayneville Plaza) and start collecting the income from it,” County Commissioner Dickson Farrior said Monday.

The commission approved a $3.5 million bond issue last June to purchase the Hayneville Plaza, which was appraised at $3.2 million for use by the SCABC.

After Farrior stipulated that the action not be taken until a July 23 deadline, his motion was approved with Commissioners Charlie King Jr. and Marzett Thomas voting “no” and Farrior, Commission Chairman Robert Harris and Commissioner Joseph Barganier all voting “yes.”

“I wish that Commissioner Farrior would wait and get the official notice that they are not going to do anything before we do that,” King said.

Farrior referenced a letter from the Department of Commerce indicating the project may be terminated by July 23.

King said there’s the possibility that an extension could be given.

Farrior stipulated that if official word comes by July 23 that the project is terminated, the county would takes possession of the building.

“From what I understand, the broadband… it’s not going to come through,” Farrior said. “And there is no income for SCABC to pay the rent, and I think the county needs to try to salvage what they can and get whatever we can out of the rent and let it go to the general fund because we need it so bad in the general fund.”

Farrior acknowledged that SCABC has a lease on the Hayneville Plaza. “But if the broadband is dead like we think it is, then they’ve got no ability to make any kind of payments to the county,” he said. “So, we need to try to take the building and try to figure out something else to do with it.”

However, the chief executive officer of Trillion Communications Corps is optimistic that the broadband project will go forward.

“The NTIA will decide on July 23rd if it will approve the broadband project to move forward. I am very hopeful that we will be given the go ahead to continue the construction of the fiber network,” Ralph E. Brown, CEO of Trillion said.

“Trillion recently submitted its July 5th CAP Response which addresses our ability to advance the project utilizing the capabilities of two outstanding Design/Build firms (G4S and MasTec). Part of our Response included the proposal to de-scope certain segments that will allow us to meet our end of period time commitment. Again, I am optimistic the project will be approved.”  Brown said.

Brown said he was not familiar or aware of the County Commission’s actions.  “They, of course, have to do what they feel is best for their county, he said.

In another matter concerning the Hayneville Plaza, the commission voted unanimously Monday to send a letter to the Alabama Board of Realtors asking them to investigate why Rossell will not provide information requested regarding the appraisal of the building.

The action was taken after Farrior was told by Commission Administrator Jackie Thomas that no response had been received after two letters were sent to Rossell seeking the information.

In May, in the absence of Commissioners King and Thomas, the commission voted unanimously to send a letter to Rossell for copies of contracts to renters used in the appraisal of the Hayneville Plaza.

Farrior said the commission had a list of what the appraiser said were contracted leases with an income of $131,000 “and I’m trying to find out what happened to it.”

He moved at that time that Thomas, with the help of County Attorney Hank Sanders, write a letter to the appraiser to justify how he came up with contracted leases to put a value on the building.

All commissioners were present for Monday’s meeting to approve the sending of a letter to the Alabama Board of Realtors to be written by Sanders.

Efforts by the Signal to contact Rossell for comment were unsuccessful.