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Hall County finalizes jail sale to Gainesville
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The Hall County Board of Commissioners gave final approval Thursday to sell the old county jail on Main Street to the city of Gainesville for $7.2 million.

The agreement finally puts to rest, at least for now, a four-month discussion over the future of the midtown Gainesville jail.

The city will ultimately own the midtown jail, which it hopes to eventually demolish. But in the meantime the detention center will continue to house detainees of the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement under the operation of Corrections Corp. of America. The Hall County Sheriff’s Office will also continue to occupy an office out of the jail for at least five years.

In the end, it took agreements between federal, county and city officials, as well as from a private jailer, to resolve the issue.

“For all of the things that have been said about the city and county not being able to work together, this is probably the first win-win-win I’ve seen since I’ve been on the board,” said Commissioner Ashley Bell.

The city’s interests in buying the old jail sprang into action in March, when the county was moving toward selling the property at 622 Main St. to CCA, also for $7.2 million.

CCA has leased the midtown Gainesville building since 2008 to house ICE detainees. CCA operates at the detention center under a contract Hall County has with ICE.

After pushback from city officials and business leaders, the county allowed an offer from Gainesville.

The city has been looking to control the destiny of the large building, which is in the heart of midtown redevelopment plans.

Ultimately, city officials hope to see the jail leveled for future development.

Before the county would agree to a sale with the city, commissioners first asked Gainesville officials to come to an agreement with CCA, which was demanding a new lease if ownership changed hands.

The city also had to work out a deal with ICE to ensure CCA could continue to operate its detention center with a seamless transition between city and county ownership.

In a statement for CCA, spokesman Mike Machak said, “Throughout this process, Hall County, the City of Gainesville and their leaders have been professional to work with. We’re satisfied with the terms of the new lease agreement. We’re also pleased to continue to be able to serve our longstanding federal partner (ICE) and generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in local tax revenue and provide hundreds of good, stable jobs in the local community.”

Also at the meeting:

— County government is exploring a policy that would give preferences to local businesses as vendors. Bell asked county attorney Bill Blalock to draft an ordinance that would give advantages to Hall County businesses when the government puts services out for bid.

Commissioner Scott Gibbs, agreeing with the suggestion, said that local businesses deserve some sort of an advantage over out-of-town businesses.

“These folks work here; they live here; they pay taxes here,” he said.

— Hall County will apply for a $1.3 million federal grant intended, in part, to cover costs of four new 30-foot buses for the Red Rabbit transportation service. Another portion of the grant would pay for bus service gas costs in fiscal 2013. However, commissioners reserved the right to withdraw the application pending an internal review of the grant. Several commissioners said they wanted to be cautious about the long-term obligations of the grant, which could leave Hall Area Transit stuck with the buses for 10 to 12 years.

Commissioner Billy Powell said he was uncomfortable with accepting the grant without more information.

The grant was first introduced to the board on Tuesday by Gainesville-Hall County Community Service director Phillippa Lewis Moss. The deadline for the application is today.

“We’re making a decision for purchasing about $1 million worth of buses in two days,” Powell said. “That concerns me a little bit.”

To alleviate those concerns, the commissioners will revisit the issue at the next meeting after the grant details are thoroughly vetted.

— Hall County Commissioners agreed to consider moving regularly scheduled commissioner work sessions to 6 p.m. instead of the current 3 p.m. start time.


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