Sheriff Mike Harrison asked the Board of County Commissioners for help Tuesday during the board’s regular bi-monthly meeting.
The building that houses the administrative and operations areas of the Sheriff’s Office, Harrison said, is no longer sufficient.
He is out of space, having already moved the investigative unit to downtown Port St. Joe.
He has computer work stations that due to where they are located are out of compliance with Florida Department of Law Enforcement security requirements.
The evidence room is in the rear of the building which not only houses the SO but the Gulf County Jail, necessitating deputies and investigators to bring evidence out through the jail when requested.
The administrative staff is just inside the front door, Harrison’s office just a few steps beyond.
“I am asking for help and an alternative site,” Harrison said. “The facility is inadequate for what we have to do.”
Harrison offered as an alternative the old Health Department building on Long Avenue, which is currently in use by the SO investigative unit.
For months there has been discussion about whether the building would be a viable option for the SO and Harrison said it would fit the bill.
However, the Supervisor of Elections Office is a significant hurdle, at least for Commissioner Tan Smiley.
The county elections office is currently the major tenant of the old Health Department building, though it uses less than half the available square footage of the building.
But as the lone county building with space, Commissioner Warren Yeager said moving the SO in and the elections back to the County Courthouse complex was the “easiest solution.”
“It’s a waste not to use but half of the building,” said Commissioner Carmen McLemore. “I think it makes sense.”
But Smiley disagreed, saying that placing the elections directly next door to the county jail was a poor fit.
“I don’t think it would work next to the jailhouse,” Smiley said, contending that would almost be a deterrent from voting for some, “suppressing the vote.”
Port St. Joe Commissioner Bo Patterson said the move would be inconvenient for some voters and would serve to dampen early voting, which is conducted at the Supervisor of Elections Office.
“I think it would definitely hurt early voting,” Patterson said. “It is now in a central location that a lot of people can get to easily.”
McLemore noted that with voting much easier these days, with absentee ballots and the ability to update registration information by phone, many voters need have little or no contact with the main elections office.
Commissioner Joanna Bryan suggested that the public be afforded the opportunity to speak on the issue.
She said commissioners should put the item on a future agenda to allow the public to weigh in.
“I do think it is a serious issue and there are pluses on both sides,” Bryan said.
Commissioners told Harrison they would continue to look at the situation.
Industrial Park lease
Less than a year after entering a lease with local company Tifco for the Dalkeith Industrial Park, commissioners voted to allow Tifco to get out of the multi-year lease.
Tifco president Tony Muina informed the BOCC by letter that the business plan under which the company leased the Industrial Park – which included expansion throughout the Southeast and the hiring of at least 15 new employees – had not blossomed as hoped.
The company was now abandoning those plans and scaling back to a strictly local company and would return to its original Wewahitchka facility, which the company had been unable to lease.
Commissioners were in agreement to let the company out of the lease, but Bryan noted that when the lease was first proposed, there was a significant “rush” and commissioners had to conduct a special meeting to clarify intentions.
The county had staff at the Industrial Park and had invested some funds in rehabbing it, but also noted that the lease payments were reduced in contemplation that Tifco would also invest in upgrades to the building.
In his letter, Muina detailed some $11,000 in improvements and asked that those dollars be accounted for when the county was seeking some $8,000 in back payments owed the county.
The federal EDA also had to sign off on the lease arrangement.
“These are public dollars,” Bryan said in urging some caution from commissioners in reconciling the debt. “There are thousands of people in this county who are struggling and these are their tax dollars.”
After considerable discussion, commissioners approved letting Tifco out of the lease and staff was directed to inspect the property with county attorney Jeremy Novak to bring back a final package before the lease is vacated.
State 30A roadwork
Commissioners passed a resolution requesting the Florida Department of Transportation restore one of the egress lanes eliminated at the intersection of State 30A and U.S. Highway 98.
The lane was removed in the FDOT original plans for the intersection, which is part of extensive ongoing road work on State 30A.
But after considerable lobbying from the BOCC and Coastal Community Association, the FDOT had agreed to restore the lane, Yeager said.