Motion to consider purchase of Regions building passes Chester County Commission; 9-8 vote

Chester County Mayor Barry Hutcherson, Lance Beshires and most of the county commission gathered at the vacant Regions bank building on June 16 to survey the building’s condition and see how it could accomodate county offices. Photo by Kendall Patterson

By Kendall Patterson

The Chester County Commission met on Monday, June 21 for a special called session, and they were accompanied by about 50 other Chester County residents in the audience. Most of the audience attended for the item on the agenda which mentioned the county considering purchase of the vacant Regions building.
Chester County Mayor Barry Hutcherson brought this to the community’s awareness during the May Chester County Commission meeting in which he said the county was interested in purchasing it.
The building, if purchased, would be bought with the American Rescue Plan funds (Covid-19 relief money) that the county received from the federal government. No county funds will be used toward the purchase.
The 6,000 square foot building and estimate of 2.41 acres of land will be able to be purchased at $750,000.
Carolyn Higgins motioned to continue on with the purchase process of the regions bank building. Larry Blackstock seconded. However, before a roll call vote was made, a lot of discussion occurred.
Jerry Lowe first asked Hutcherson “How many offices are going out there to that building?”
Hutcherson’s answer was that there is not a set idea of which offices would be moved but, it would be convenient to have a person from the county trustee’s office and county clerk’s office in the building.
Jerry Lowe then suggested if there was no set idea of which offices will be moved into the building then there should be no need for the building.
Hutcherson responded by saying that the county offices need it for social distancing for COVID-19 or if another pandemic situation was to arise. He also said he liked how they could utilize the bulletproof glass that the counters have and the vault as well.
Lowe replied, “This COVID is practically over. If these people that didn’t take their shots, would go ahead and take their shots that solves the problem.
“This rescue plan is for the future,” Hutcherson then said. We want to help prevent if anything were to come up. This money is to be used for the use of that, to help protect lives.”
He then spoke on the benefits of having the drive-thru services and that it would be easier to access the veteran’s office if it was moved there as well.
Barry Smith then stood up to state his opinion of the situation.
“I feel like we have not really gone about this the right way,” he said. “The long range planning committee has not looked at these funds and has not looked at the possible ways to spend this money would be. I don’t think there’s any real rush to grab this building. I don’t think anybody else is going to be buying it. We need to set a meeting with our long range planning committee and government affairs committee or whoever it would be to look at all the various options… This needs to go to a committee and come out a committee before we make it a final decision.”
He was applauded by a lot of the audience.
Later on, Commissioner Joseph Melaro mentioned how the comptroller said the funds could be used in this manner, the comptroller also suggested the governments not use the money toward anything that will have reoccurring expenses.
He continued saying that if the county were to buy the building, the county would be losing a place for other businesses to come to Henderson/ Chester County.
“That’s a prime location for commercial… We would be giving that asset up.”
Another said benefit of buying the building was the convenience of the drive-thru and the ease of access to walk into.
“We have worked hard for years to offer efficient and user-friendly services and programs to our citizens,” Chester County Trustee Lance Beshires said. “These programs generally cause more work on our part, but we are here to serve you; and this drive-thru is just another way of offering service to you, the taxpayers of Chester County.”
Melaro disagreed with the reasoning though.
“People come downtown to do their business, and why do they want to get in their car and drive miles away to do some other business. That as far as convenience goes, if we really want to make it convenient, we can spend tens of thousands of dollars on new software so people can sit at home and put their mouse in place and pay for everything,” he said. “That would be much more fiscally responsible to the taxpayers.”
An audience member gave an ‘amen’ to one of his statements.
Furthermore, when Beshires was asked how many citizens come to the trustee office to pay in person, he said that he “could not get a report on the number of people who come in to pay.”
Commissioner Jackie Butler said he believes all options should be looked at if time was possible, because he spoke to members of his district and no one was for buying the building.
It was said that the county has until 2024 to use these funds.
Tim Crowe stated he tried to look at the purchase objectively, but still could not find a reason to buy the building.
“I have been very open-minded about the purchase of this building to the point of where I might have pulled the trigger on it, and I think now we need to slow down. I will feel much better about taking a break. Taking a breather on this and looking at it whole-heartedly to make sure we are doing the right thing, because I too have been bombarded with call or text and emails and I have turned a deaf ear to the citizens of my district before because I thought what we were doing was right, but I’m not falling on my sword tonight. I will feel better if we table this and dig a little deeper to see what our other options are as far as buildings and expansion.”
In voting, the motion passed with nine for considering buying the building and eight were against.
Commissioners for considering the purchase of the regions building were: Larry Blackstock, Andrea Holland, Ann Moore, Carolyn Higgins, Russell Clayton, Jerry Emerson, Sandra Highers, Diane Jordan and Mike Alexander.
Commissioners against the motion were: Johny Garner, Jerry Lowe, Al Mckinnon, Jackie Butler, Joseph Melaro, Barry Smith, Tim Crowe and Todd Lewis.
This action was just to move on in the process of considering the purchase. The commission will have to vote again to purchase the building in a future meeting.
In other business during the meeting, all budget amendments were approved along with the budgets for the 2021-2022 fiscal year.
Also, resolutions for funding volunteer fire and a resolution for making appropriations for various funds, departments, institutions, offices and agencies of Chester County was approved.
Other items approved included a resolution for solid waste department funding, fiscal strength and efficient government fiscal confirmation letter threestar program requirements and the Shiloh regional solid waste department 10-year plan.