County discusses homeless center, moving elections office
Published: Tuesday, January 21, 2014 at 6:46 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 21, 2014 at 6:46 p.m.
The city of Gainesville’s effort to establish a homeless center at the former Gainesville Correctional Institution and the relocation of the Supervisor of Elections Office were central points of discussion among Alachua County commissioners Tuesday.
The commissioners talked over the city’s plans to transform the GCI site into a center where the homeless can come for shelter and support and heard from staff about the county’s involvement in the process so far.
“I think it’s a great facility,” Commissioner Charles “Chuck” Chestnut said. “I support the one-stop center concept.”
County Manager Betty Baker said she and her colleagues haven’t been able to find a specific motion from the County Commission authorizing staff to directly participate in the GCI planning project. But the lack of a specific directive from the commission doesn’t mean county staff haven’t kept abreast of project developments.
Minnie Rolark, who heads up the Community Support Services department, said her staff has stayed involved throughout the GCI planning process. She and her colleagues have regularly attended meetings on the project to make sure the county is part of the process.
Commissioner Susan Baird said she doesn’t want the center to be a “destination point” for the homeless but rather a place where people trying to improve their situation can get the support they need to do that. She described this approach as “people helping people help themselves.”
Commissioner Mike Byerly said it is important for the county and city commissions to have a joint discussion on the future of the GCI site. If the GCI facility is established as a viable option for homeless people looking for support, he said it might be good to revisit and potentially change the county’s policies on related issues, such as how it handles tent cities and Bo Diddley Community Plaza, where some homeless people spend their nights sleeping on sidewalks.
Commissioner Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson said people who are homeless and struggling with mental health or substances abuse issues face a lack of transitional housing, which is a problem that should also be addressed as plans for the GCI site move forward.
Earlier in Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners heard from Supervisor of Elections Pam Carpenter and others involved in the search for a new location for her office.
The county is trying to meet a spring 2015 move-in deadline that will give Carpenter’s staff time to get ready for the presidential election in fall 2016. The elections office has done a new search for potential properties at the commission’s direction after board members cited concerns that the leasing price for the county’s top prospect during a prior search was too high.
The new search resulted in five responses that included repeats of submissions they got the last time as well as new proposals.
Carpenter told The Sun that the proposal for a three-story building at 515 N. Main St. seems to be at the top of the list right now.
“I think the location is fantastic,” she said. “It keeps us close to the downtown area.”
During Tuesday’s general discussion meeting, Pinkoson said the county should seriously consider purchasing the Star Garage downtown, which is already partially occupied by the Supervisor of Elections Office. He also suggested looking at the old Doc’s Office Supply building at 12 S. Main St., which was submitted as a proposal for the Supervisor of Elections, as a potential new home for the public defender’s office, which also needs to be relocated.
After the meeting, Pinkoson told The Sun he thought the site at 515 N. Main St., which Carpenter had said was a top contender, sounds like a good deal. Incorporating space for other county departments or constitutional officers into the eventual site plan for the supervisor’s new home is also an idea worth exploring, he said.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Pinkoson also announced that either the County Commission chair or the chair’s designee will serve on the Gainesville City Commission’s Regional Utilities Committee. The City Commission decided to add a slot for a county commissioner to the committee, which makes recommendations on utility-related matters but doesn’t have any decision-making authority.
Pinkoson told The Sun that county residents who are Gainesville Regional Utilities customers but live outside the city limits deserve to have a say and said he plans to listen to the discussion within the committee and bring that information back to the County Commission.
Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or firstname.lastname@example.org.