The Blount County Commission on Nov. 20 voted to loan itself $700,000 to buy the $2.7 million Ceramaspeed building on McArthur Road for the Blount County Highway Department.
Discussion at the monthly commission meeting arose because the county has already spent $750,000 to prepare a site beside the Alcoa City Center for highway department.
The catalyst for a new place for the highway department was the $3 million developer Jay Dunlap paid for the current highway department property adjacent to the Hamilton Crossing shopping center at Louisville Rd. At that time, the county authorized $750,000 be spent preparing a site adjacent to the Alcoa City Center on North Wright Road.
Recently Ceramaspeed approached county officials about the building they had up for sale because they are shifting operations to Mexico. County Mayor Jerry Cunningham and Highway Superintendent Bill Dunlap told commission the Ceramaspeed site could handle growth of the department, house other departments and was a much better site. The company accepted an offer of $2.7 million pending commission approval.
Approval wasn’t so simple during the meeting as several spoke about the proposal.
Jim Folts with Citizens for Better Government said the site prep cost more than it should have. “Perhaps the commission should consider bringing back the Public Building Authority to get the project under control,” he said. “This will add another $5 million to $7 million the taxpayer’s burden.”
Commissioner Bob Proffitt said the money could be better spent elsewhere. “There are other properties we could use. I think it’s a great commercial property. I think it should remain on the market and be bought by a company who can put back on the property tax rolls,” he said.
Dunlap addressed the commission and said the building was an opportunity to buy space for department expansion later while also giving other departments like the school board additional space. The property purchase also would give the county the opportunity to sell off older buildings after their occupants move to the Ceramaspeed property.
Dr. Brian Bell, director of facilities for Blount County Schools, vouched for the move. “I think it’s a good purchase for the county for today and for the future,” he said.
County Finance Director Dave Bennett said the county would take $700,000 from fund balance that would be made up in interest savings on debt this year and put that money with $2 million of the $2.25 million remaining from the $3 million Jay Dunlap paid for the highway department property.
Bennett said there is $10 million in fund balance to cover the cost of the purchase. “It will not affect the tax rate,” he said.
Bennett said the county asked Alcoa City to consider reimbursing the county for the site preparation if they ever sell the property, and “They said they weren’t opposed to that,” Bennett said.
Wendy Pitts Reeves advised commissioners to hold off. “I’m not saying don’t do this. I’m saying let’s take our time,” she said. “Whenever we get in a hurry is when we get in trouble.”
The measure passed 13-7-1. Voting against the measure was commissioners David Ballard, David Graham, Joe McCauley, Monika Murrell, Bob Proffitt, Wendy Pitts Reeves and Mike Walker.
Voting for the measure was Kenneth Melton, Gerald Kirby, Tanya Burchfield, Holden Lail, Mike Lewis, Scott Helton, Bob Ramsey, Steve Samples, Mark Hasty, Steve Hargis, John Keeble, Gary Farmer and Ron French. Brad Harrison abstained.
In other commission business, commissioners voted to do away with the 5-foot stream buffer zone in all unincorporated areas of the county except the urban growth boundary. In addition, they also disbanded the water quality ad-hoc committee.