The Marion County Commission voted during their October meeting to purchase the building that currently houses Caring, Inc.
According to Marion County Mayor David Jackson, Caring, Inc., an organization that provides services to help secure employment for people with disabilities, is moving from their Ridley Drive location to the Southeast Tennessee Human Resource Agency’s (SETHRA) facility on Gamble Road in Jasper.
SETHRA, who owns the Ridley Drive facility as well, agreed to sell the property to the county for $151,009. Jackson said the building was appraised for $400,000.
The Marion County Sheriff’s Department will purchase the building using money from their drug fund and will use the facility as a training center.
“Right now, all the sheriff department employees and police departments have to have 40 hours of training a year,” said Marion County Sheriff Ronnie “Bo” Burnett at the meeting. “Some of that is done in-house. A lot of that, we have to drive to Nashville or Knoxville.”
He said having a training center will fill the “void in this area”.
“This is a great opportunity,” said Burnett. “It will help me and the police departments.”
According to Jackson, the future plan will also be to move the County Commission meetings to the Caring, Inc. building and move the American Jobs Center from the former Chattanooga State building to the current County Commission building. He said they then could put the former Chattanooga State building back on the market, which is appraised at $2 million.
The idea didn’t sit well with Commissioner Mack Reeves.
“I am not against law enforcement by any means. I’ve always been very supportive,” said Reeves at the meeting. “But that building originally came off school property. It was the old central office.”
He said he would like to see it go back to the Marion County School System. He said he believes the school system is supposed to get a chance to buy the building if it ever became available again.
“The Director of Schools (Mark Griffith) has made comments about needing a maintenance building,” said Reeves. “I just can’t see the county not giving that to the school system. It’s my feeling that needs to go back to the school system.”
Reeves, who is also the Director of Attendance and Transportation for the Marion County School System, said there is currently no place to meet for school system needs.
“There is not any room in the high school to meet,” he said. “If I have to meet with parents, I have to bring them out here to the juvenile court room.”
Commissioner Matt Blansett said he was under the impression Griffith did not want the building.
“If the director of schools is not interested in that, we can’t make him take something he doesn’t want,” said Blansett.
“(Griffith) told me the other night he would be interested,” said Reeves.
Mark Griffith confirmed to the Independent that he was not interested in the building, saying “I was interested when Caring, Inc. was closing years ago in 2008 maybe. They out priced themselves and didn’t hear anything about it until the sheriff was wanting to buy it, and I gave him my blessing to do so.”
Reeves also brought up recent property purchases the county has made on the Courthouse Square in Jasper. Currently, the county owns the former Harris property, which was donated to the county, and the former Snipes building.
“We have close to $80,000 invested in the Courthouse Square and the reason behind it was for the sheriff’s department,” he said. “If we are going to buy (the Caring, Inc.) building, we need to put the property we bought on the square back up for sale. That was the whole premise for taking the Harris property and the Snipes property. We had to have it eight months ago and nothing has been done with it.”
Jackson said the current plan for the Harris property is to install a park there with help from the Town of Jasper.
“The snipes building will probably need to be sold if we purchase this property,” he said.
Commissioner Joey Blevins agreed with Reeves about the Courthouse Square properties.
“(The two properties) need to be sold and put back on the tax roll, because that’s what we are here for,” he said. “We are not here to buy property and build parks. It’s on the courthouse square. Surely, it’s desirable for someone.”
Commissioner Matt Blansett, who is the chairman of the building use committee, said the committee will discuss the future use of those properties if the Caring, Inc. purchase goes through.
“We did discuss the Harris property and the Snipes building,” said Blansett. “If this goes through, at our next meeting we are going to discuss what our recommendation will be on those properties.”
Blevins also had issue with idea of moving the commission meetings to the Caring, Inc. location.
“This location is excellent for folks coming to a meeting,” he said. “This place is really easy to find. If we are going to move this location, we need to make sure that’s the wisest thing to do.”
A roll call vote was taken and Commissioners Reeves and Donald Blansett offered the only dissenting votes. The measure only gave permission to the sheriff’s department to purchase the building, not to move the commission meeting location. That will be discussed in the coming months.