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G’town takes first step toward new town hall

In a surprising move at a special meeting on Feb. 4, the Georgetown Town Council approved a motion to take the first step toward relocating the town hall, citing several problems with the current building and reasoning that remodeling it was not feasible due to the town’s needs for more room.
‘We’re faced with a decision to put money in this building or build a new building,’ Council President Billy Stewart said. ‘And we also have a building not far from here that can be bought for $200,000. We would also have to spend up to $100,000 to remodel it to suit our needs. A new building would cost the town between $435,000 and $535,000.’
Clerk-Treasurer Doug Cook said the present town hall, located in a former bank building, needs major repairs.
‘The roof leaks in the rear of the building,’ he said. ‘Actually, the roof is in awful shape. The gutters are falling off, there’s problems with the electrical system, and we don’t have a decent-sized room for meetings. On cold mornings, we’re lucky if the temperature gets up to 60 degrees in here by noon. There’s bricks falling off upstairs. We could spend $100,000 on this building and still not have a decent meeting room.’
Kim Sweet, deputy clerk-treasurer, voiced concern about mold in the building, saying that mold was growing behind loose wallpaper on the interior walls.
‘I think we need to take care of the town employees,’ Councilman Aaron Striegel. ‘Otherwise, we’re not doing our job.’
Jim Reynolds, public works director, mentioned that rough estimates to repair the existing town hall were about $100,000.
‘That would probably be in the higher range,’ Reynolds said. ‘And there’s always concerns about money. And some things could wait; some can’t. But you still wouldn’t have an adequate meeting room here.’
‘This old building is structurally sound,’ Cook added, ‘but it needs a lot of work.’
‘We’re just discussing things, we need to listen to the people right now,’ Stewart said. ‘If we get another building, Chief (Larry) Potts could have the whole police department building, instead of just part of it. And if we decide to purchase the other building, we would have a permanent meeting room and plenty of parking. But I don’t think we should spend $200,000 until we’ve had an appraisal done on the property.’
The property, the former 7-11 food store, could be financed at 3.9 percent or less, Cook said, and may be paid for with Economic Development Income Tax funds.
The town receives about $40,000 a year in EDIT funds, some of which have been used to make payments on the town’s backhoe, leaving more than $23,000 a year that could be used for payments on the property.
‘I believe that $100,000 to remodel the building (7-11 property) is excessive,’ Cook said.
‘We may need to pay Discernity (the Broadband Internet company),’ Stewart said.
‘I’m afraid the EDIT money may be needed down the road,’ Councilman Mike Mills cautioned.
‘What is more important, the Internet or a building for the town?’ Cook asked.
‘A building for the town,’ Stewart responded. ‘And it would be nice to have that quarter of a million dollars the town spent on Internet.’
When it came to a vote, Mills declined to act.
‘At this point, I have to abstain,’ he said. ‘I feel like I need to know more.’
But the measure passed anyway, with a 4-0-1 vote.
Cook asked the council if he should give the owner of the property a deposit, but it was determined that there needed to be two appraisals and there would have to be a public hearing on the issue.
‘The seller needs to know that we have to meet certain conditions,’ Stewart said. ‘And we have to be sure that the people of the town want us to do this, but this gets the ball rolling. This is step one.’
In other business, the council discussed an ordinance authorizing the council to build a sewage treatment plant on 23 acres the town owns, known as the O’Brien property. The ordinance failed on the first reading last month when the vote was 3-2, and needed a three-fourths majority to pass. Mills and Councilwoman Karla Perkins gave the negative votes at that meeting.
But on the second reading, the ordinance can pass with a 3-2 vote. Once again, Mills and Perkins voted no, but the measure passed, as it received three votes in favor.
‘This authorizes Georgetown to build the plant,’ Stewart said. ‘The only thing left to do is build it.’
But there is another option on the table. The Georgetown Town Council and Harrison County officials met later in the week to discuss the possibility of building a sewage treatment plant together near the county line.