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Gainesville says it has options to fund jail purchase
Hall officials set noon deadline today for city's offer
The old Hall County Detention Center on Main Street in now the North Georgia Detention Center run by Corrections Corporation of America. - photo by Tom Reed

Gainesville officials, who less than a month ago said they did not have the funds to buy the old county jail on Main Street, now say they have "several" options to pay for its purchase.

City Council met behind closed doors for nearly an hour and a half Monday, discussing some of those options with Administrative Services Director Melody Marlowe.

Because they were talking about a potential real estate acquisition, the council did not have to open its meeting to the public.

City officials have been given extra time to come up with an offer to purchase the old Hall County Jail on Main Street.

The county announced plans last month to sell the property to Corrections Corp. of America, a private jail company that currently leases the building to house immigration detainees.

CCA has offered $7.2 million over a period of seven years.

Verbally, Gainesville has offered to pay $6.5 million for the property up front.

The council called Monday's meeting shortly after a contentious meeting with the Gainesville-Hall Development Authority, which was scheduled to take over the county jail and handle its sale to CCA on Friday.

But by the meeting's end, the county agreed to give Gainesville more time to come up with an offer.

Gainesville officials refused to be specific Monday on how they might pay for the jail if the county sells it to the city.

Already this year, Gainesville City Manager Kip Padgett has encouraged council members to consider raising property tax rates to help offset declining revenues from property taxes. City officials expect about an 11 percent drop in the city's tax digest this year, which will no doubt have a negative impact on revenues from property taxes.

Padgett also said last month that the city couldn't afford the county's asking price.

But on Monday, both he and Mayor Danny Dunagan were united that the city had four or five options available for financing the jail.

"You've just got to be creative," Dunagan said of the city's ability to come up with the money in lean economic times. "It's always nice to have options, and we've got options."

They would not divulge details, but Padgett said the council would have to prioritize its future projects. If the city buys the jail, another plan might be on the chopping block.

On Friday, county officials set a deadline for the city to deliver its written offer, giving the city until noon today.

County Commission Chairman Tom Oliver has said he will extend that deadline if needed, but Padgett said the city is trying to wrap up the deal.

It's still unclear whether Gainesville might still lease the building to CCA if it becomes the new owner. City officials said Monday they had not spoken with representatives from the private prison firm.

"If we buy, we'd like to sit down and talk to them if they're interested," said Dunagan.


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