Library lawsuit costs
Hall County: $97,568
Nothing settled in court is cheap.
The battle over the location of the North Hall library has cost thousands as Clermont and Hall County defended their positions.
Clermont sued the county in April. Since that time, the small North Hall town has spent $59,132 on legal fees, and Hall County expended $97,568.
In its lawsuit, Clermont said the county abused its discretion with sales tax dollars by voting to build a library outside of Clermont. The town claimed the county said on multiple occasions the library listed as a project on the special purpose local option sales tax VI referendum would be built in the town of Clermont. Hall County officials said no promise was ever made and the county only decided on the location when it voted in February to build the library at Nopone Road.
Earlier this month, Hall County Superior Court Judge Andrew Fuller ruled in favor of the county. Clermont is appealing the ruling.
The amount Clermont has already spent on legal fees is staggering, considering Clermont’s annual budget is $212,650. This year, Clermont budgeted about $8,500 for legal costs.
“It is a lot when you think about it compared to our budget, and we have looked at that,” said Sandra Helton, the town’s clerk. “The (city council) were doing what the people wanted and that was to move forward.”
It would seem these costs would cripple the city’s operating budget. But Clermont Mayor James Nix said the town will pay for its legal fees out of reserves.
“Over the years, we’ve tried to save as much as we could for things that come along, and this is one of them. We’ve built up a reserve and we’ve used some of it,” Nix said. “We still have some money left. We’re not completely broke.”
Helton said the city has about $132,000 in reserves.
“We would probably look into cashing a (certificate of deposit) if need be,” Helton said. “I’m sure we will talk about this some more, especially as we go into the new year.”
The nearly $100,000 the county spent took out a large chunk of its legal budget.
According to Hall County Administrator Charley Nix, the county set aside $325,000 for legal costs this fiscal year, which ends in June.
“We’re about halfway through and we’ve spent $157,000. We have $168,000 left,” Nix said. “We seem to be tracking about $50,000 higher than last year at this time.”
Nix said the county expected legal costs to be a bit higher in the Clermont lawsuit, and he doesn’t believe it will cause any issues for the county’s budget.
“I think that any time you get into a major lawsuit that is as visible as the Clermont library, it tends to get expensive. It doesn’t surprise me at all,” Nix said. “It does not take long for legal fees to start adding up, because a lot of detail goes into that and it can run down a lot of different rabbit trails.”
Each year, creating the legal budget is a challenge, Nix said.
“You use your historical base; it’s a bit of a mystery, but so many things can happen to a large organization like this.
Who would have guessed some of these legal fees that are so prevalent would have even been here?” Nix said.