Tuesday, June 18, 2024

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County mulls moving elections office to defunct pharmacy in Burlington

Alamance County’s board of commissioners has given the county’s administrators the go-ahead to explore the possible purchase of a decommissioned pharmacy in Burlington to serve as a potential new home for the county’s elections office.

During a regularly-scheduled meeting on Monday, the commissioners voted 5-to-0 to allow the county’s administrators to open negotiations with the owner of the former Medicap pharmacy at 378 Harden Street about the county’s possible acquisition of the property, which it already leases to store election supplies and equipment.

The commissioners approved these tentative talks at the behest of county manager Bryan Hagood despite some misgivings of their own about the building’s long-term suitability.

During Monday’s discussion, Hagood reminded the commissioners that the county already spends about $9,983 a month to lease the former pharmacy – a portion of which it currently uses to store election-related materials. Until recently, the county had also used the rest of the building as a drive-through location for tax payments, although this function, which was introduced at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, has since been discontinued.

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During the pandemic, the county used the former Medicap Pharmacy’s drive-thru lane as a method for residents to pay their county property taxes without having to get out of their cars or come in close personal contact with employees.

Hagood told the commissioners that, with the drive-through location’s demise, he and his fellow administrators have begun to contemplate other potential uses for the facility. He added that a driving factor for these discussions has been the expiration of county’s lease later this month on the portion of the old pharmacy that had housed the defunct tax payment site.

Hagood noted that the local elections office currently stores equipment at the old Medicap building and several other locations throughout Burlington and Graham. He added that the former pharmacy’s 10,678 square feet would allow the county to centralize most of its election-related storage along with the actual operations of the local elections office.

Alamance County’s Board of Elections is now located on South Maple Street, at the corner of South Maple and West Pine streets.

“The floor plan that’s in the packet,” he added, “would accommodate all of the board of elections staff, it accommodates their training space needs, and it accommodates their operational space.”

Hagood added that the county’s elections director has assured him that the former pharmacy would provide enough storage space to stow all of the county’s elections-related materials – save only the sneeze guards and voting booths that the elections office employs. The county manager also observed that the former pharmacy’s 56 parking spaces would also be a vast improvement over the handful of spots that the elections office currently has at its disposal.

Hagood’s plan to use the old drug store to centralize the county’s election-related facilities is a departure from a previous proposal that he pitched to the commissioners in 2019. That May, the county manager proposed a new structure to house the elections office as part of an ambitious vision to redevelop the block of West Elm Street that’s home to the Judge J.B. Allen Jr. Criminal Courthouse. Hagood told the commissioners at the time that the building earmarked for the elections office would be capacious enough to accommodate all of its operational and storage needs.

In his presentation on Monday, Hagood told the commissioners that, in the event they decide to purchase the former pharmacy building, the county would still need to spend roughly $150,000 on HVAC upgrades and other renovations to prepare the facility for its new use. He added, however, that the county may be able to tap into federal pandemic relief funds to cover these costs.

The county manager’s proposal for the former Medicap site drew some rather mixed reviews from the board of commissioners.

Commissioner Bill Lashley initially balked at the potential cost of this project, he spitballed at about $1,750,000.

“We don’t need this building folks,” Lashley went on to declare.

Meanwhile, commissioner Pam Thompson noted that the former pharmacy building seems to her like a better location for a private business than a core county government operation.
“Isn’t there somewhere we could build a metal building [for the county’s own use] to do it all?”

The objections that Thompson and Lashley raised were nevertheless countered by a plea from John Paisley, Jr., the chairman of Alamance County’s commissioners, to give the county manager’s proposal a chance.

“I think we need to have the board elections in one facility,” Paisley told the rest of the county’s governing board. “Right now, we’re scattered all over the county…and how many of those facilities are really secure?

“We’ve got to do something to service our elections,” he added. “This building may not be it. But if we don’t look at it, we won’t know.”

In the end, the commissioners agreed to give Hagood the all-clear to begin negotiations with property owner – if for no other reason than to obtain more information before they make their final decision. The commissioners also agreed to extend the lease on the space that formerly housed the drive-through payment center for another month.

Read the newspaper’s editorial page opinion on the idea of moving the board of elections office: https://alamancenews.com/memo-to-county-manager-graham-is-the-center-of-the-county/

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