County wants more discussion over where to relocate elections office


Published: Tuesday, May 14, 2013 at 6:47 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, May 14, 2013 at 6:47 p.m.

Alachua County may move the Supervisor of Elections Office into a local Big Lots store if negotiations go well, but county commissioners aren't sure if they want to lease, buy or build.

During its Tuesday meeting, the County Commission authorized staff to continue negotiating with Bosshardt Property Management, which manages the Big Lots at 2340 N Main St. in the Northside Shopping Center, on the possible move. Big Lots is moving into the old Albertson's building on Northwest 13th Street next month.

But commissioners debated whether they should solidify a long-term lease for that site, which would combine the Big Lots facility with part of the adjacent Ashley Furniture building, or erect their own facility instead. Buying an already-existing space was also discussed as an option.

The county has been working on a timetable that would have Supervisor of Elections Pam Carpenter and her staff move into a new office in December. The office's need for a better facility predates Carpenter's start as supervisor in 2005.

The elections office is using three separate locations right now, including its office at the Star Garage in downtown Gainesville.

Commissioner Mike Byerly said he was concerned the county may be under such tight time-constraints that Bosshardt will have the primary negotiating power and the county won't be able to get the best deal as a result.

Carpenter told the board the office absolutely must have a new location by the 2016 presidential election. Her staff struggled during the 2012 election in its present facilities.

"We won't be able to do it in 2016," she said.

The county has thousands more voters today than it did several years ago, and her office also manages more early and absentee voting than in past years.

Commissioners were interested in the cost difference between the elections supervisor leasing a spot and building its own facility. If the costs were comparable, building might be the better long-term option.

Commissioner Susan Baird, who recused herself from Tuesday's vote due to a potential voting conflict since she works as an independent contractor with Bosshardt, suggested the county could do a 10-year lease and then work on building a Supervisor of Elections Office for long-term use in the interim.

Acting County Manager Rick Drummond said the county has to settle with Bosshardt on the Big Lots space if it wants to set up a new office in time for the 2014 election cycle. If an agreement can't be reached or the commission doesn't approve a contract, the county will have to delay the move.

Facilities Manager Charlie Jackson said it would probably take about 2 years to design and build an office.

Carpenter pointed out that the office's current location in the Star Garage was originally meant to be a 15-month, short-term solution when it moved there several years ago. The space wasn't working well then for staff and it doesn't work now, she said.

"We need our equipment and our people in the same place," she told the board.

A couple of people who submitted property bids for the Supervisor of Elections Office told the commission Tuesday they were interested in selling their properties.

After much discussion, the commission, in a 4-0 vote with Baird abstaining, directed staff to negotiate with Bosshardt for lease terms of four, 11 and 20 years as well as a potential option contract for purchasing the property.

The commission also asked staff to develop a cost comparison of building an office versus leasing it in both the short- and long-term, as well as to provide information on the impact that removing the new facility from the tax rolls might have from a taxpayer perspective.

Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or morgan.watkins@gvillesun.com.

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