Tax collector’s office may move

OKEECHOBEE — A new Alderman Building may be constructed on the site of the old county hospital building, which was most recently used by the Okeechobee ARC.

At their May 11 meeting, the county commissioners considered options for provided more space for the Okeechobee County Tax Collector’s Office and the Okeechobee Property Appraiser’s Office.

Both offices are now in the Alderman Building, which was originally built as a county jail and was renovated for other office space after the current jail was built.

If the new Alderman Building is constructed on the proposed alternate site, the old Alderman Building could be renovated for use once again by the sheriff’s department as administrative space and evidence storage.

At their May 11 meeting, the county commissioners considered the options of demolishing the existing Alderman Building and building the new Tax Collector/Property Appraiser building on the same site, or building a new Alderman Building on another site and renovating the existing building. The existing building does not have enough space for the growing duties of the Tax Collector’s office. The new Alderman Building would include space for the Driver’s License Office, which is now one of the responsibilities of the Tax Collector’s Office.

Commissioner Bryant Culpepper said he has concerns about tearing down the old ARC building, which was originally built as a hospital.

“It’s another piece of Okeechobee that we will lose,” he said.

Commissioner Bryant said the building needs a lot of work to bring it up to code, and since the county is not willing to lease it out on a long term basis, no potential renters have been found.

“If it’s not the board’s pleasure to offer an extended lease of at least 20-25 years, I no longer oppose demolition,” he said.

He added that he can see the value in demolishing it to make room for a new building.

“I don’t support tearing it down just for a parking lot,” he added.

“If anyone has sentimental value to that building, it’s me, because I was born there,” said Commissioner David Hazellief, who supports demolition. He added that the building has been changed so much over the years, it no longer has historical value.

“The existing building would be costly to bring up to code,” he said, adding that he likes the idea of the moving the tax collector to that location.

“I am in support of having a new building on the property,” agreed Commissioner Kelly Owens.

The commissioners also considered options for a new building for the Road Department and Public Works. Originally a 6,000 sq.ft. building was proposed, but that idea was rejected as too expensive. At their last meeting, the commissioners asked county staff to come back with options for a 3,750 sq. ft. building and a 2,500 sq. ft. building.

Commissioner Hazellief said he prefers the smaller building,
“I am leaning towards the larger building, looking at the lifespan of the building and potential growth,” said Commissioner Owens. “I think in terms of what it costs now compared to what it could potentially cost later.”

“My concern is just what we are facing at the jail today,” said Commissioner Culpepper. “What we thought would suffice 30 years ago, today it is insufficient.

“I don’t think that’s a bad investment; 2,500 sq. ft. will work today, I don’t think it will 20 years from now,” he said.

Commissioner David Hazellief said there are other expenses to consider. For example, a larger building will be required to have more parking spaces.

Pete DePasquale, road director, said the 2,500 sq. ft. option leaves zero room for supplies and storage.

“While more records are  digital now, there are always things that we will need physical copies of,” he said. The smaller option does not have any work stations for the employees who do not work inside the office to use the computers to file their reports, he said.

Director of Facilities Donnie Oden said the larger building is needed to accommodate both the road department and public works.

“If you are going to have public works in there you do need a little bit more space,” he said. “To me the 2,500 sq. ft. building would probably be OK if you are just dealing with the road department, but if you are dealing with road department and public works, you are going to need more space.”

“I know it’s a lot of money but I hate to build exactly what we need if it’s not going to last for a long time,” said Commissioner Brad Goodbread.

The motion to build the 3,750 sq. ft. building passed 4-1, with Commissioner Hazellief casting the dissenting vote.

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