Harris objects, County Commission votes to sell Hayneville Plaza for $125,000

Published 5:15 pm Monday, November 9, 2015

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By Fred Guarino
The Lowndes Signal
After an executive session concerning general characterization regarding the appraisal of the Hayneville Plaza, the Lowndes County Commission voted four to one, Monday, over the objection of County Commission Chairman Robert Harris, to sell the Hayneville Plaza for the amount of $125,000 to Bell Venues LLC of Lowndes County.
The commission approve a $3.5 million bond issue to purchase the Hayneville Plaza building as a hub center for the South Central Alabama Broadband Cooperative District in June of 2011.
County Attorney Hank Sanders said he would give Harris a written letter regarding the law, but stated the sale of a public building does not require bids be taken. He said an appraisal is required, and the building could not be sold for less than the appraised value.
County Commissioner Carnelle McAlpine stressed the sale of the building was for the economic development of the county.
According to information presented by County Administrator Jackie Thomas, the building was appraised at $123,000.
McAlpine made the motion to sell the building with a second from Commissioner Dickson Farrior.
Harris said he wanted it on the record “that we are picking winners and losers here (regarding economic development in the county).” He said there was already talk to the person who put in the offer and “that should not be.” He said, “This county is too involved in personal stuff to be doing stuff of this nature.”
Harris said,”The appraisal was done by design. The person who put the offer in was done by design, as well, and there is a direct conflict of interest.” He said, “It is ethically wrong for us to be doing this because we don’t need to continue to be doing this.”
Harris said, “The building should have been put up for auction or bid instead of arbitrarily selecting a particular individual to purchase the building.” He said it did not give other citizens of the county the opportunity.
Harris said in line with the appraisal, “It does not match what we are is supposed be doing in handling county business.”
Voting in favor of the sale of the Hayneville Plaza were County Commissioners McAlpine, Brenson Crenshaw, Joseph Barganier and Farrior. Harris voted, “no.”
Thomas said the proposal was made by Bell Venues LLC. She also said Joe Bell Jr. is an owner.
Harris said the appraisal came in on Oct. 27, the commission received it on Nov. 3, and the proposal came in Nov. 5. He called the appraisal of $123,000 and the proposal of $125,000 “highly coincidental.”
According to the appraisal by Valbridge Property Advisers, the county acquired the property in 2011 for $3 million. And, “The purchasers were apparently unaware of 2006 reports that indicate there were some code problems. The purchase price appears high for the Lowndes County market, even if the property had no issues.”
McAlpine said, “We have a purchaser interested in buying the building for business purpose for economic development and we are hoping that something positive will come out of the Plaza.” He said, “The building is not being used and not sound. We can’t use it. So, we made a decision to dispose of it and let a business have it that can do something with it and maybe we’ll create some jobs here in the county and business.”
McAlpine said the building was never security for the $3.5 million bond the county floated to purchase it. He said the bond was secured by ad valorem taxes for which the county is still obligated. He said, “It just wasn’t worth what we paid for it. It’s unfortunate.”
Farrior said the county was faced with having to take the building down. But he said of the sale approved Monday, “I think this would be the most advantage for the county by trying to bring another building into it and salvage what we can out of it.”
The Hayneville Plaza was purchased in connection with a South Central Alabama Broadband project.
Farrior said, “It’s been a total loss of $3 million. We borrowed money that we couldn’t afford borrow. We brought a building that we didn’t need. And then when we bought the building we couldn’t use it. So, it’s been a bad deal for the county, and we’re trying to make the best of a bad deal.”
In other matters the commission Cowin as the low bid for heavy equipment rental for the county’s ADECA Project.
The commission approved Thomas as the holder of the county’s credit card, approved the minutes of the October meeting, payment of invoices and the bid of Capitol Chevrolet for the purchase of Sheriff’s Office vehicles.
And the commission approved a bond for the purchase of E911 equipment and six weather warning sirens.

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