Cleburne chairman gets authority to pursue Talladega Resource Center
by Jason Bacaj
Apr 12, 2011 | 2303 views |  2 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
HEFLIN – The Cleburne County Commission’s chairman broke a split vote on a resolution that allows to act unilaterally –- while keeping the commission informed –- in getting the Talladega Resource Center off the ground.

Chairman Ryan Robertson was authorized to establish lines of credit and sign contracts for the Cleburne County Capital Asset Improvement Plan, a joint project that includes the Talladega Resource Center construction and renovations for the county courthouse.

Commissioners Emmett Owen and Benji Langley voted against the measure, while Commissioners Rex Nolan and Joel Robinson voted for it. Robertson held the tiebreaking vote and said he was in favor of the resolution -– spurring Joyce Fuller, the county’s revenue commissioner, to say from the corner in a stage whisper: “Of course you are.”

The planned multi-million dollar facility will house the county administration offices, EMA and 911 offices as well as a Jacksonville State University field center akin to the Little River Canyon Center. It will cost about $4 million, Robertson has said. A firm cost is unavailable because the project is still in the value engineering stage, he said. Costs are evaluated and aspects of the plan can be altered or cut to save money during this stage.

About 80 percent of the project’s funding comes from outside sources, said county administrator Steve Swafford. Roughly $2.2 million comes from the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program, while JSU has com-mitted about $1 million, he said.

Critics of the project say much of the money remains up in the air. But Swafford said after the Monday night meeting only $500,000 the county requested from FEMA is uncertain. A CSEPP meeting on Wednesday will reveal more about the status of the requested money, he said.

If the money doesn’t come through, the portion of the project the county is responsible for would jump from $650,000 to $1.08 million, Swafford said. He noted that projects in which the county is only responsible for a maximum of 27 percent of the cost are rare.

Covering that cost –- along with the $650,000 cost of courthouse renovations -– would require the county to cover construction cost with borrowed money, according to the resolution. That debt would be rolled into a warrant issue the county would pay off over roughly 15 years, the resolution said.

Borrowing money and taking on more debt is where some in the county take issue with the project. It’s not right for the commission to take on debt to pay for a building only serving a few departments while all departments operate under an attrition policy, some in the community have said.

“I voted against putting my district in debt,” Langley said after the vote.

The resolution approved Monday night doesn’t commit the county to any action, Swafford said after the meeting. It only allows the chairman to get the ball rolling on the project and to keep the commission informed on its status.

“I felt like it was the right thing to do for the county and I must live with the consequences, good or bad,” Robertson said afterward. “We could still –- regrettably -– back out.”

Star staff writer Jason Bacaj: 256-235-3546

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