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Hall County set to discuss old jail with Gainesville

Powell suggests professional appraiser; city wants site added to Midtown revamp

POSTED: April 20, 2009 11:47 p.m.

Hall County commissioners agreed Monday to sit down with Gainesville officials to discuss the future of the old county jail in Midtown Gainesville, including selling the property.

At the board’s work session, Commissioner Ashley Bell suggested he, Chairman Tom Oliver and County Attorney Bill Blalock meet with the city within 30 days.

"We do need to set a time line," Bell said. "Hopefully we can get this done in the next couple weeks."

Bell said he thinks the county should open dialogue with the city as soon as possible, but is interested in seeing how Corrections Corporation of America will fit as a corporate neighbor before deciding how long they will lease the facility before turning it over to Gainesville.

Oliver agreed with Bell’s proposal.

"I think time is of the essence," Oliver said Monday. "Hopefully we can go toward some resolve with this."

Commissioner Billy Powell also suggested having the old jail professionally appraised so the city would pay fair market value.

The commission unanimously agreed with that as well.

"We have a fiduciary responsibility and we’re going to make sure we sort of do what we’re supposed to do and make sure the pricing and the value is what it should be and I think that’s the best way to do it," Oliver said.

Gainesville is hoping to eventually purchase the old jail to use the property in its Midtown redevelopment project.

Hall County currently owns the old jail and is leasing it to Corrections Corporation of America to house immigration detainees for $2 million a year.

In 2007, the city and the county drafted an agreement — that was never put into effect — that laid out the terms for the purchase of the facility.

The original agreement called for the city to pay $4 million for the jail over two fiscal years and allow the county to lease the jail to a private jail management firm like CCA for seven years. The deal would have generated approximately $18 million for the county and guaranteed Gainesville officials eventual control of the property.

It is not yet certain if the new deal will mirror the original one, but officials say a meeting is a step in the right direction.

"I think for the first time all of the commissioners are going to have an input into the negotiations. I think it was very clear that there was a communication problem between the county and the city," Bell said. "(Gainesville) is in my district and I just want to make sure we’re all on the same page."

City Councilman George Wangemann said he was happy to hear that the county wants to have a discussion with the city but hopes the appraisal will not affect the city’s ability to pay for the jail.

"I think that’s real progress in my opinion. Any time you can communicate and possibly resolve the problems and concerns that you have we’re moving in the right direction," Wangemann said. "I just hope that we can work together and make this thing work out for the benefit of both the city and the county."


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