ELIZABETHTOWN — Essex County plans to buy a former house of worship in the Town of Lewis to ease overcrowding and resolve office-space issues.
The Board of Supervisors offered $165,000 for the former Jehovah's Witnesses building, said County Manager Daniel Palmer.
Supervisors voted 14 to 4 to go ahead with the purchase, but who ends up housed at the new site is still undecided.
Space has become a priority, as the county plans to renovate and improve the aging Essex County Fairgrounds buildings, which need about $2.2 million in overall improvements.
Instead of trying for funding for the entire amount to fix all of the deficiencies in every structure, supervisors are seeking about $400,000 in grant funding to tend to the most critical fairgrounds needs.
Trouble is, the Cornell Cooperative Extension office and the county’s Soil and Water Conservation District are both housed in one of the worst buildings on site and have to move out for the three-year phased-in rebuild.
As supervisors began talking about finding temporary space for Cooperative Extension and Soil and Water to use, purchase of the Jehovah Witness building surfaced as a possibility.
But that idea may not be valid anymore.
Some supervisors feel that, because Cooperative Extension and Soil and Water's workers are not county employees, they should find and pay for their own office space.
Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava (R-Moriah) said moving Cooperative Extension to the Lewis building doesn’t alleviate the county’s space crunch, “and I think we need to take care of the county departments, not contract agencies.”
County Manager Daniel Palmer said the decision on who occupies the building once it’s purchased would be made by the board later. He felt he would have no trouble finding a county office to move to the new site.
Vice Chair Shaun Gillilland (R-Willsboro), who chairs the board’s Fairgrounds Committee, said more space options are under study in the design and that more answers may be forthcoming to ease concerns.
'A GREAT BUY'
Supervisor Edward Gardner (R-Essex), who had toured the Jehovah's Witnesses site, said it fits the county needs and budget.
“It’s a great buy, and I feel it’s well worth it,” he said.
Supervisor Gerald Morrow (D-Chesterfield) agreed, saying, “We’ve got to do it. The price is right. It’s a beautiful building with good parking.
“We’re always looking for space.”
The board is frequently criticized for removing property from the tax rolls, Morrow added, but this parcel is already tax exempt.
OLD COUNTY JAIL
Supervisor Michael Marnell (R-Schroon) said he’d rather see the money go to repair buildings at the fairgrounds or elsewhere.
He thinks that buying the building would cost the county more because it is responsible for clearing the parking lot, cleaning the offices and providing ongoing maintenance at the Lewis site.
Marnell said he lobbied to have the planned county-nutrition site in Westport designed with a basement and second story for extra office space, but it will instead be constructed as a single story with a slab foundation.
Supervisor Joe Pete Wilson (D-Keene) said some county workers are housed in the old County Jail building, which is unsafe, so the county has to get them into new quarters as soon as it can.
“It’s a shame they are in there,” he said. “The Jehovah Witness building is ready to use.”
The roll-call vote was 14 to 4, with Scozzafava, Marnell, Michael Tyler (R-Westport) and Archie Depo (D-Jay) opposed.
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