Dear editor,

I know there’s a frustration to nail down the new courthouse location but rushing a decision can be costly. After 20-plus years of trying, what’s another month or two? The Board of County Commissioners agenda on July 10 called for  studying three potential sites located within the Avalon and Highway 90 location. However, on July 13 and just three days later, three of our commissioners decided to just accept the JDL site and dismissed the other two sites. 

Only Commissioner Rob Williamson and Commissioner Lane Lynchard opposed this hasty motion put forward by Commissioner Sam Parker. Commissioner Williamson said, “I don’t understand what the rush was (on July 13). There was no need for breaking away from an agenda item (on July 13). This land didn’t make the cut in 2014, according to county documentation.”   

One of these rejected sites is located at Pine Forest Road and Old Bagdad Highway. This 6-acre, county-owned parcel is located next to the county’s 50-acre complex (Public Works, Emergency Management, City Auditorium, just to mention a few) located at Avalon Boulevard and Highway 90.

Of the three parcels originally under consideration, both the City Council of Milton, represented by Mr. Jeff Snow, and I, a taxpayer, prefer the Pine Forest location. Both of these county-owned parcels border the city of Milton’s western limits. So for all practical purposes, if this vacant parcel is annexed by the city of Milton or not, the new courthouse will still remain next to or within its historic location and close to what the majority of voters preferred in the last non-binding election — to keep the courthouse in Milton.  

The July 10 agenda called for doing a cost assessment analysis comparing all three sites. Had the BOCC stayed with their agenda, they would have found that hundreds of thousands of tax dollars would be saved by picking the Pine Forest location. The county does have a 75-day period of due diligence to evaluate this potential JDL purchase and decide whether or not to purchase the 19.2-acre parcel. 

One reason the Pine Forest location was dismissed, Commissioner Parker gave me, was that these 6 acres were not enough land for the courthouse. He also relayed to me that my suggestion of buying an additional 3.5 acres, next to the six acres on the south end and bordering Pine Forest Road, was not doable. 

Its owner, Mr. Ballou, hadn’t made up his mind about exactly how much of his 7.33 acres to sell and for what price. After talking to Mr. Ballou on July 13 and again on July 27, he did agree and continues to agree to sell the county these 3.5 acres (318 feet by 600 feet on Pine Forest Road) for $124,000. 

Once 800 feet of Pine Forest Road is incorporated in with the county’s six acres (merging their 6-acre and 50-acre parcels together) and these new 3.5 acres from Mr. Ballou, the county will have over 10 to 11 acres of high and dry vacant land, much of which is cleared, to build a courthouse. Just take a ride south on Pine Forest from Old Bagdad Highway (starting point of the county’s six acres) and look to your left, all the way past Spikes Way and on to Shawn Lane… that area to the left would be the location footprint of the new courthouse. These 10-plus acres are enough. Why should taxpayers pay for a bigger parcel than they need, by purchasing JDL’s 19 acres, when they can utilize land they currently own or purchased for considerably less? 

Some additional reasons to build the courthouse at the Pine Forest location: 

 


This site is central to all county residents, as determined by past, paid-for, consultant survey analysis.
This site is bordered by two four-lane highways, Highway 90 and Avalon Boulevard, and no additional turn-in lanes will be required. Required turn-in lanes at the JDL site will cost several hundred thousand dollars.
This site has a mature infrastructure, replete with high-speed internet, sewer, water, electrical, stores, and restaurants, making it more employee and customer friendly. JDL’s site is over two miles to the south on Avalon with few restaurants, etc.
This mature site, located along two major corridors, would have a lower probability of power interruptions or extended outages with storms or hurricanes.
A major portion of the required land is currently county-owned and “shovel ready.”
This Pine Forest site is currently across the street from Public Works. Since citizens have approved the half-cent sales tax for road construction projects, it would seem reasonable to allow Public Works to participate in some of the initial site preparation.
Overflow parking exists at the nearby CA and directly across Pine Forest Road at the Emergency Management complex. Every time I’m in the area these parking lots are mostly empty. 

 

Hopefully, the BOCC will take a fresh look and consider this new Pine Forest land sale information. And during their 75-day due diligence period with JDL, compare not only overall cost but voter perception. If the new courthouse is going to be funded by a half-cent sales tax, I would think that the county would have a higher probability of getting this tax passed by choosing the Pine Forest location. 

Why should taxpayers pay over a million dollars extra for land when they can utilize their own land, have a better location, no extra turn-in lanes required, and just pay $124,000 extra for 3.5 acres to stay in proximity to Avalon Boulevard and Highway 90?  Paying a million dollars extra for the JDL property should not make anyone happy! 

BILL CALFEE

Milton