Board scheduled to reconsider administrative space for lease

By Bill Short

During its regular monthly meeting tomorrow night, the Oakland Board of Mayor and Aldermen is scheduled to resume its discussion of administrative space for lease.
At the board’s April 17, 2012 monthly meeting, City Finance Director Pam Walker said there had been some discussion about moving the administrative offices from City Hall into space that would be rented at 70 Clay St. and the first two bays in Tommy Johnson’s building. She said the offices of the mayor and Human Resources director might possibly be moved into the second bay.
The administration had been approached by the Tennessee Department of Corrections about renting some space from the town. Noting that the “parole people” have been coming into City Hall only one day a week, Walker said they want space that they can use all five days.
By renting them some space in the facility that houses the Oakland Building and Codes Enforcement offices, she said that would generate some revenue that would cover the cost of renting the space on Clay Street and in Johnson’s building.
Walker said the Building and Codes Enforcement employees would move into the space at City Hall that currently houses the administrative offices. She noted that the Department of Corrections had discussed how much it would pay to rent the space.
“They were wanting two offices, and they would be ecstatic if they could get three,” she noted. “So, we showed them space, and they were very excited about it.”
Walker said she suggested a rental amount to the Department of Corrections, which was expected to be discussed by the department supervisors.
She said there are a total of 1,800 to 1,900 square feet in the two bays in Johnson’s building. And the monthly rent is $2,000, including utilities, which Oakland Building Official Walter Owen considers “very reasonable.”
To renovate the facility for the town’s needs, Walker has said it will cost $1,800 to $2,000 to install a front counter in the first bay.
“There are four offices already in the second bay,” she has noted. “And I think, right now, those could be used as they are. Possibly, two walls could be knocked out and another wall put up to make one space a little bigger, but no major renovation.”
Walker said Johnson’s building has been appraised at $410,000. Chuck Wombough, an alderman on the previous board, had said the appraisal basically answered all the questions the board had about the “viability” of the building. He also said it made clear that it would make more sense to purchase the building than to rent space in it.
At the board’s July 19, 2012 meeting, Wombough said purchase of the building would be contingent upon verification that the lease agreements are valid. Alderman Karl Chambless said the board needed to do a title search to make sure the property is “properly available,” and that it is a “legal entity to sell.”
While noting that the board had also discussed warranties, Chambless said he was not sure whether that is a viable option. He also said there should be some kind of “follow-up protection,” because the seller had declared that the board would be purchasing the building as it is.
“We’ve based this purchase primarily on the fact that revenue is going to cover the cost,” he said. “Consequently, I’d hate to think that we make the deal and, a month later, everybody moves out, and we’re left holding the bag.”
Maggie Powers, another alderman on the previous board, had said she did not consider it a good idea for government to compete with private companies by becoming a landlord. But Chambless called it “general practice” that governmental agencies own property that they lease to private companies.
“We had discussed the fact that this project did entail some revenue to be brought in to cover the cost of the building,” he noted. “So, I’m just curious to find out what sort of parameters we have on how long these folks are actually going to be there, so we can budget for that.”
If they are only going to be there a year, Chambless said, the board would have to amend the budget for the upcoming fiscal year. If the board members decide they want to rent to another governmental agency, he said they can do that.
Wombough believed the consensus was that it is space the town needs for its administrative staff. He had also said the “good part” about it was that it would enable the town to have a leasing to the two tenants who are already there to offset some of the cost of that building. And he noted that it would also open up the opportunity to lease an area in City Hall for the Department of Corrections.
“That, coupled with probably additional space over there at the Annex building,” he said, “some of those folks are going to move over to the new building, which will help to offset a lot of those costs. So, it becomes taxpayer-friendly.”
But Powers disputed Wombough’s contention that it is space the town needs.
“We have plenty of space here,” she declared. “We’re leasing space to other agencies and planning to lease more space to another agency. And it’s really not necessary.”
While acknowledging that he shared Wombough’s “positive thoughts” on the value of having more space, Chambless said he had some reservations about “actual space” for the residents. He cited parking, accessibility and said “upgrades” would have to be done, including a “drive-through” that must be constructed and funded.
“So, it does cause me some consternation as to whether it really is a viable option,” he said, “as opposed to, say, putting our eggs in a basket and hoping they hatch into little chickens.”
Chambless recalled that, earlier in 2012, the board had considered the feasibility of a more modern “municipal center” or City Hall area that would encompass some of the aspects of a community center.
“So, my biggest concern is that we’re moving from this barn to that barn,” he said. “And we really don’t have enough stalls for all the horses.”
Although there had been speculation that the income the town would draw would cover its expenses, Chambless said there are still many “hidden” expenses. He also wondered what the façade of that building would display.
“Is it going to show ‘Municipal Headquarters,’” he asked rhetorically, “or is it just going to be another strip mall building?”
Powers had said the only problem she had with it is that it would actually place the town in competition with people who own buildings and make their living by leasing them to others.
“We’re competing with our own taxpayers,” she concluded. “I would like to see it tabled until at least after the election and let the next board handle this.”
At its Aug. 16, 2012 meeting, the board unanimously postponed for the third consecutive month the purchase of the Clay Street office building.
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