Commissioners, Council agree to EMS building purchase

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The Switzerland County Commissioners and Council on Monday night voted to purchase the building on East Main Street that currently is occupied by Switzerland County EMS, Inc., and after renovations, will use the building to house the new county-owned Switzerland County Emergency Response program.

The Commissioners had been considering many options in trying to find a permanent home for SCER, which is temporarily being housed at the Switzerland County Detention Center. The commissioners had looked at the purchase of the EMS building; other buildings around the community; and also considered building a new structure on the land that the county owns adjacent to the Detention Center on Pike Street.

Estimates by engineering firms set estimated construction costs at $150-$200 per square foot for a new building, and if that was the decision, construction couldn’t start until probably next Spring, with a completion date sometime in the late fall of next year.

With the project expected to involve a building of 4,600 square feet, that meant that the new building’s estimated cost would be from $690,000 to $920,000 – with the possibility that final costs could reach even higher.

By state law, a municipality is only allowed to pay no more than the average cost of two appraisals when buying land or buildings. After having the current EMS building appraised, the purchase price was set at $187,000.

At Monday’s meeting, Commission President Steve Lyons explained to fellow board members and to the crowd that there had been several inspections made on the building. All of the reports came back with positive results, noting that the building is in good shape, structurally sound and good air quality with no mold. He went on to explain that the building had been appraised at $187,000 and that the Switzerland County EMS board had agreed to sell the property.

Commissioner Josh South said after seeing all the inspections that he could not justify spending that large amount of money to build a new building. He also stated that “we need to take the emotions out of buying the existing building.”

South said even if the county does need to make a few improvements in the future, it still won’t amount to $500,000 (the difference in the EMS purchase price and the new construction cost).

Commissioner Mark Lohide stated that he was opposed of buying the EMS building and said, “Everyone I have talk to is in favor of building a new structure.”

He also stated that he thinks we are going to “settle for less” in purchasing the EMS building and most people won’t care if their taxes go up.

The discussion was opened for public comment, with some people for the purchase and some not.

The Commissioners then took a vote, with Lyons and South voting to buy the EMS building. Lohide, opposed to the purchase throughout the meeting, took a deep breath before saying that he would reluctantly make the motion unanimous.

With the purchase approved by the Commissioners, the matter then moved on to the County Council, who would have to approve the money needed to buy the building. The members of the council had been sitting with the commissioners throughout the first portion of the meeting, and had heard the discussion from both sides. Again, members of the council had mixed feelings, but felt that financially the purchase of the existing building was best.

Councilman Steve Crabtree made a motion to pay for the purchase of the building and Councilwoman Itsy Jones seconded the motion. Council then proceeded to vote on granting the funds to purchase the building at $187,000 and it was approved.

Crabtree and Jones were joined in voting yes by Council members John Gary Welch and Mike Bear; with Councilman Terry Hall being opposed to the purchase. County Council President Glenn Scott, who works for Switzerland County Emergency Response, abstained from the vote; and Councilwoman Rachel Bladen Schuler was not at Monday’s meeting.

The discussion then led to the purchase, closing and possession of the property. Realtor Teresa Lyons is handling the purchase agreement and a closing date for September 19th has been set by the Commissioners and the Council, with possession of the property the following day.

– Rosemary Bovard