PRINCETON — After a closed-door meeting last month with Gibson County Council members called to discuss potential real estate acquisition, Gibson County Commissioners presented a 2018 budget request for $639,000 from the cumulative building fund to acquire un-named land parcels Tuesday.

Commissioners made the proposal in the first of a series of budget workshops between the council and various county government department heads under way Tuesday and Wednesday.

The workshops are part of the process of developing the 2018 county budget.

The $639,000 request for acquisition of property isn't one piece of land. Commissioners bundled several properties discussed in last month's closed session that have been through the appraisal process into one request, but Commissioner Gerald Bledsoe said they're not making one specific recommendation yet, and did not identify the properties.

The county owns about two-thirds of the block on the east side North Main Street between State and Emerson Streets. The North Main Annex building, plus parking spaces and a garden maintained by inmatesare owned by the county. The United Presbyterian Church and parsonage, a vacant furniture store (IOOF building) and Crickett's Lunch Room are the only properties on the block that don't belong to the county.

Bledsoe and Commissioner Alan Douglas said the county needs to plan for the future, including whether the Gibson County Jail can expand or should be built elsewhere. The county owns about two-thirds of that block, as well, between Emerson Street and Brumfield Avenue. A building that has housed medical offices, and a monument company are situated on the northwest corner of the lot. The jail, corrections facility and parking lot are take up the rest of the block.

Depending on the plans for the jail, commissioners said Tuesday, there might be a need for the other properties south of the jail for perhaps a third court system. But, there's been no definitive public discussion.

Gibson County Councilman Bill McConnell said he "hates to see all these properties taken off the tax roll," but Bledsoe said property owners have approached the county.

"We're not suggesting that we go one way or the other," said Douglas. "We did due diligence for appraisals...they all basically have come to us."

"We're not trying to buy everything all at once," said Council President Derek McGraw.

Commissioners noted that if the property to the north of the jail is sold to another party, then the jail would be "landlocked" with no opportunity for expansion.

"It's our job as commissioners to look into it. We brought it up about a year ago, and we're looking at options," said Bledsoe.

The budget request for land acquisition was one of several items pitched by commissioners to the county's fiscal body for their budget. Commissioners also proposed to use part of their budget to fund:

• $1,560 annual pay raises for elected officials

• $11,232 for a contribution to a Teamsters scholarship fund

• $32,508 for Time Warner internet service to accommodate heavier internet usage

• increasing the county's contribution to the Gibson County Economic Development Corp. budget from $100,000 to $150,000.

• increasing the parks and recreation budget by $6,000

• allocating $315,000 of Economic Development Income Tax revenue for upgrading highway department equipment.

The workshop followed a brief review of the county's general fund, where Councilman Jeremy Overton noted the July 11 balance was at $4.12 million. Overton said the county's in dramatically better fiscal shape than 2008, when only $15,144 remained in the fund. He said the county needs to maintain a $3 million to $4 million "cushion" to avoid borrowing money.

It was in the council's regular monthly session prior to the budget workshop, where members first discussed the jail needs. They agreed to advertise an additional appropriation of $32,700 from the cumulative building fund to pay for repairs to the Exterior Insulation and Finish System (EIFS) coating of the jail building.

Ken McDonald of Tri-State Painting said the EIFS coating, which is made of Styrofoam and a web coating, is susceptible to moisture. The building's exterior hasn't been touched since the jail was built in 1989. "It needs more than paint," he said, proposing to pressure-wash the building, repair the EIFS coating and some brick work, then apply a rubberized paint that would protect the surface.

"It's a good building, it just needs maintenance," McDonald reported.

He asked for suggestions on the color of the paint that would replace the current terra cotta color.

"John Deere green?" suggested McGraw with a smile.

Douglas told council members then that the county needs to look at the long-range needs of the jail. "The jail is almost at capacity if not over capacity. We need to be thinking about either a new location or expansion...We need to see in the near future, the thoughts of a new jail...we need to start figuring out where we would go or what we would do."

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