It’s not a done deal yet, but with the county commission’s go-ahead last week to get appraisals on acreage next to the Tourist Development Office on US 98, the next step could be to relocate the supervisor of elections office there.
By a unanimous vote Feb. 7, the county commissioner approved a motion by Commissioner Jessica Ward and seconded by Noah Lockley, for a conditional purchase of 5.5 acres of land adjacent to what had been the former Florida Highway Patrol station and what is now the TDC office.
The county is looking at spending between $500,000 and $600,000 for the land, owned by Eastpoint seafood dealer David Barber and his wife Stephanie. Commissioners also OKd seeking two appraisals on the property, which are expected to take up to five or six months.
County Attorney Michael Shuler said that if the appraisals come out greater than the projected purchase price, “we can renegotiate or walk away.
“The county would be responsible for appraisals and they’re usually less than $1,000,” he said, noting that with a downturn in the housing market, the appraisals may come back in less time than expected.
The money for purchasing the land would come out of about $2 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) monies that the county has received, with up to $750,000 set aside for the supervisor of elections office, Jones said.
After the commission heard concerns from Supervisor of Elections Heather Riley a few months ago about the long-term future of the building in Apalachicola the county now leases from Harry Arnold, Commission Chairman Ricky Jones asked his colleagues to look into possible alternative sites.
“We had so much going on with the building during the last election cycle,” said Jones. “The air conditioning went down during early voting.”
He said he was the lone commissioner to return with a proposal, and said he backs relocating the elections office to the Eastpoint site, provided Riley thinks it’s a good idea.
“There is very little land left in the county and this is a large tract not in a flood zone,” Jones said. “There’s not many like that left; the state and the federal government own 90 percent of land.
“The supervisor of elections would have the ability to say whether they would move the constitutional office out of Apalachicola,” he said.
One possible wrinkle, and one which would call for a pair of public hearings, is the law requires that constitutional offices be housed in the county seat unless the requirement is waived by commissioners.
Jones said the county last approved such a relocation when in June 1988, by a 3-2 vote, they granted permission to the sheriff to relocate his offices to State Route 65.
Jones has emerged as a chief proponent of moving the elections office “as long as the supervisor of elections is good with it.
“Eastpoint is more centrally located and Apalachicola is doing good to handle the traffic they have,” he said. “We’re getting to the point where it’s getting difficult for people to do their business in Apalachicola.
“I don’t know if we can find a piece of property in Apalachicola, and it might be double that (price),” Jones said. ”It’s about what’s convenient and the property itself. I say it needs to be close to where it’s accessible to everybody and kind of shovel ready.”