CLERMONT — The controversy over the location of a new North Hall library could wind up in court.
If Hall County commissioners vote this week to build the sales tax-funded library at a Nopone Road location and not in Clermont, where residents there felt it had been promised, the town will likely file suit, Clermont City Attorney David Syfan said at a Saturday town hall meeting.
“I do believe the town council wants to send a message to the library board and the board of commissioners that they’re serious about this, and if they don’t live up to their promises, that they will file litigation over this,” Syfan told a gathering of about 75 people at the Clermont gym as Mayor James Nix stood beside him. “The town just hopes this won’t be necessary and that the county will do the right thing.”
The Hall County Board of Commissioners likely will vote Thursday on an issue that has sparked heated debate among some Clermont-area residents since it was first proposed early this month.
Hall County commission Chairman Tom Oliver proposed building a planned North Hall library in the same location as a community center and park on Nopone Road, about six miles south of Clermont along the U.S. 129 corridor.
Oliver believes the site would be a more centralized location for North Hall residents than in Clermont, which is in the far northern end of the county near the White County line.
Clermont area residents say they were blindsided by the proposal, noting that the county spent $1.1 million in sales tax money on a 41-acre site near downtown where the new library was to be built.
Residents say they voted to approve the most recent special purpose sales tax last year with the understanding that the $3 million earmarked for a North Hall library would be used to build it in Clermont.
“Up until 15 days ago, this has been the location for the library,” said resident Joe Schuebert.
Schuebert is one of several residents who have started a grass-roots effort to stop the library from being built on Nopone Road.
Sandra Cantrell urged residents to sign a petition and turn out in force for the Hall County Library Board’s Tuesday night meeting and the county commission meeting Thursday.
“Meeting attendance speaks volumes,” Cantrell said.
Hall County District 3 Commissioner Steve Gailey, whose North Hall district includes both locations, told Clermont residents at Saturday’s meeting that he backed them.
“I have known since day one when we purchased the 41 acres that we purchased it for a library-slash-park,” Gailey said. “I am willing to fight with you on this, because it’s the right thing.”
Gailey said he did not know which other commissioners would vote his way on the issue. Commissioner Bobby Banks made a motion to table the matter when it came up for a vote at the commission’s Feb. 11 meeting.
Gailey said the wording of last year’s ballot item for the special purpose sales tax should have been more specific as to the location of the library.
“I personally believe the mistake was made when the name ‘Clermont’ was not in the SPLOST vote,” Gailey said.
Still, Syfan believes the town would have a strong case if it asked a judge for an injunction and possibly a judicial order that would direct the county to build the library in Clermont.
“What’s sad is (an injunction) would bring everything to a stop,” Syfan said. “The (Nopone Road) park project would stop, the library project would stop.”
Appeals could delay both projects for a year or more, he said.
Tim Merritt, a North Hall resident who serves on a citizens advisory committee for the Nopone Road facility, said he, too, was upset by the new plans for a library there.
“I was appalled at how quickly our county government tried to run this thing through,” Merritt said.
Clermont resident Emily Harper brought a sign to the meeting that she’s had since 2005.
“We’ve just been passed over, we’ve been promised, and I feel like it’s our turn,” Harper said.