Former Sheriff James Manfre: Building another center after spending $7 million purchasing and renovating the old hospital is wasteful.
by: James Manfre
There is nothing wrong with the present abandoned Sheriff’s Operations Center. Building another center after spending $7 million purchasing and renovating the old hospital is wasteful.
I agree that the building should not have been purchased in the first place. That is on the former county administrator. It is a shame that the present county administrator, Jerry Cameron, has to clean up this mess left to him. I know he is working hard to remedy all the problems handed to him, and he is attempting to make the best decisions with all the politics surrounding this issue.
Reports support the conclusion that there is nothing inherently dangerous about the building, and the steps to reopen are minimal. I understand the employees’ fears after the county reacted slowly to the symptoms that were developing after the county demolished the old moldy patient wings 15 months after the building was in use.
It is probable that the demolition by the county, which was done without a DEP permit, caused the building to inhale contaminants that led to the employees’ health issues.
I was a vocal supporter of the building being abandoned and then remediated. That has been done. Many homes and office buildings have mold issues and are successfully reoccupied after a professional cleaning.
The county in 2003 spent close to $70 million to build the Government Services Building, the County Courthouse, the EOC building, and other county facilities. The county is still paying for the bonds to finance the construction of those buildings.
In 2012, the county issued $30 million in bonds to be paid over 30 years for the Sheriff’s Operations Center, the new inmate facility and other county purchases.
With the coming economic downturn due to the coronavirus and the resulting decrease in sales tax and other revenues, this is not the time to burden taxpayers with more debt and spending.
I understand the sheriff’s employees’ fears about moving back into the Operations Center. Rather than spend another $15 million to $30 million, plus interest, on a new Operations Center, why not offer employees a bonus to reoccupy the building?
For those severely affected by the previous mold issues and unwilling to reoccupy, alternate space can be used in the Clerk’s Office or the EOC where the sheriff’s Communication Center is located. This would be much less costly.
My staff and I occupied the building for 15 months until the end of my term. During this 30-month period, no construction worker, county employee, sheriff’s employee or myself ever showed any health related symptoms due to the construction or occupying of the Operations Center.
There is nothing inherently wrong with the building, or there would have been medical issues prior to the demolition of the patient wings.
I understand that the county and sheriff have difficult decisions to make, but this county cannot afford additional bad financial decisions to affect taxpayers, who are increasingly, due to the influx of over-65-year-olds this past decade in Flagler, on fixed incomes.
Our tax base is 90% dependent on residential taxes. It should be only 70%, but that is a story for another day. I hope this point of view is a consideration in future decisions.
James Manfre is an attorney in Palm Coast. He is a former sheriff of Flagler County.