Sell it as is, presumably in the next 90 days: that’s the consensus of the Flagler County Commission for the Sheriff’s Operations Center off of State Road 100 in Bunnell, the 27,000 square foot building evacuated a year and a half ago and swamped before and since in an environmental and political tangle that keeps blighting county government.
The commission wants to be rid of it. But until now it hadn’t contended with the issue. Monday morning County Administrator Jerry Cameron presented three options: demolish it, sell it as is, or repair it. Only one commissioner–Joe Mullins–favored the last option. The others were for attempting to sell it as is, and if that doesn’t work, then demolish it.
“If we’re not able to have the sheriff go back in the building, whether we fix it or not, it’s going to be very difficult for us an an elected group to tell other people that they can go–who work for the county–that they can go back into that building,” Commission Chairman Dave Sullivan said, ruling out the third option. “If we can sell it, sell it as is. If it goes on for, say, over a year, at that point we just revert to Option 1, demolish the building and go from there.”
Commissioner Greg Hansen concurred. “We’ve got to silence the Yahoos out here, one who’s sitting in the audience, who continually spread lies about that building,” Hansen said, “and we just have to get it off our plate somehow.”
Hansen, who doesn’t mind salty language, was referring to the commission’s recurring nemesis, Dennis McDonald–who twice ran for the commission–who carried on a verbal duel with County Attorney Al Hadeed during today’s meeting, making various charges about Hadeed, the county engineer and the commission’s handling of the sheriff’s building, though the allegations, Hadeed insisted repeatedly, had been discredited.
McDonald at one point went further, charging that “this building poisoned over 30 deputies and staff,” and tied the accusation to the county engineer. Hadeed didn’t let the statement stand: “For the statement to be made that they were poisoned, and as a result of the work of the county engineer, is an absolute libel,” he said, capping a brief summary of refutations of McDonald’s charges. (McDonald owes the county thousands of dollars in legal fees resulting from complaints he filed with the state ethics commission that the commission found not only to be frivolous, but knowingly and maliciously false.)
O’Brien, too, has no interest in rehabilitating the building, which he said could trigger possible litigation, opting more for the Sullivan approach, with a timeline.
“From personal experience of just having renovated an old house in Tennessee into a wedding venue,” Sheriff Rick Staly said, “I will tell you that you will find unexpected issues if you try to renovate or fix this building. In my example up there, the cost was double what the builder had anticipated. I think there’s many more issues with that building than your Terracon recent report says.”
“I think that building is shot,” the sheriff continued. “They took a pig and put lipstick on it, it’s still a pig. So my recommendation, maybe as Citizen Rick right now since I’m a taxpayer too, is Option 2, because I don;t think you can guarantee your ROI,” meaning a return on investment, “and you can put a half a million dollars in that building and you still can;t guarantee that it’s a safe building for humans to inhabit.”
The only exception was Commissioner Joe Mullins, who said he’d spend the money and repair the building, lifting its value.
Many questions remain regarding the operations center’s health, among them the results of a long-awaited examination by the Centers for Disease Control. “It doesn’t look like that’s going to be timely forthcoming,” Cameron said. “We’re not getting [a] response. It is not in the interest of the county to wait indefinitely for a resolution on this. It is a financial issue for us. It is also an issue of confidence in the community for us to address this and put it behind us.”
He was seeking guidance from commissioners as to how to proceed, based on the three options. There’s a $7.5 million debt on the building, including principal and interest, backed by the county’s half-cent sales tax.
Option 1, complete demolition, would cost the county $241,423. The land is currently valued at $544,750. The sell-as-is Option 2 would give the county a total value of $2.8 million, between the land and the building. “This is an educated guess on what that building’s value would actually bring on the market,” Cameron said. “I’m led to believe that it could be a little higher or it could be considerably less. But that’s what we have.” The estimates were all calculated in-house.
Repair costs for Option 3 would run $412,761 at current estimates. That would double the building’s value and result in a net asset of $4.6 million. But it’s also risky: ‘If we should discover something that was not anticipated during that recovery or rehabilitation process, it could be considerably more, so that is a risk factor that is built into option 3,” Cameron said. That option “has the highest risk component because we don’t know what we might discover.”
“I want to clarify on option three, if we looked at that option,” Commissioner Don O’Brien said, “I’m assuming that that does not mean to try to request or force the sheriff to reoccupy the building, because I’m not interested in that conversation whatsoever.”
“I believe it would be impossible or it would be disastrous if you put the sheriff back into that building. There is a lot of water under the bridge,” Cameron said, seemingly unaware of the pun, “and it would be an unsatisfactory solution.”
Mullins, who repeatedly reverted back to accusing previous commissioners of mishandling the building, said demolition “makes no sense to me,” because it tears down the asset. “As a builder, I’d buy this building in a minute,” he said. “This property is going to be very valuable, the building is very valuable.” He added, “I would gladly spend half a million to work on getting two million back, but there is going to be some public staining that needs to be addressed and reassurance, so it’s going to take a little work to get there.” But after he heard other commissioners speak, he quickly pivoted to the sell-as-is plan–and again reverted to wishing to “go after them,” referring to previous commissioners. His comment about buying the building “in a minute,” meanwhile, may not have been an errant statement.
Sullivan, saying that “logic may say one thing”–and appearing to hint that in other circumstances the county could take a different approach–said “the political aspects of this decision are outweighing all the other aspects, so therefore I’ve learned a lesson from this, is, don’t buy old buildings. Period.”