LIVE OAK — By the time Suwannee County voters head to the polls next year, the Suwannee County Supervisor of Elections will have a new home.
At its March 19 meeting, the Suwannee County Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved spending $175,000 from capital outlay reserves on upgrades to office space at the Mizell building to house the elections office.
Currently, the elections office is located at 220 Pine Ave. SW. The Mizell building is just two buildings south on Pine Avenue.
County Administrator Randy Harris said the goal is to have the move finished by the of the year.
“That really is a big priority,” he said. “That way they’re prepared moving into the next election cycle.”
Glenda Williams, the Supervisor of Elections, said getting the move finished this year is necessary in order to provide time for preparing for elections next March.
“We definitely need to be in by the end of this year,” she said. “We don’t have time to move in January and they’re working really hard to accommodate us.
“We kept hearing that we were going to Mizell’s, but nobody confirmed that. Everybody knew it but us.”
Previously the board had elected to spend money fixing the warehouse portion of the Mizell building to serve as storage for the various county offices. That work still is ongoing with the roof being replaced as well as siding and a loading dock built on the back of the building.
With the elections office moving, that current building will also be utilized for storage, likely the tax collector’s office.
The southern end of the Mizell building is used by the Suwannee County Sheriff’s Office and it will continue to do that, Harris said. And both the planning and zoning department and the building department will utilize storage in the building.
The elections office’s voting equipment will also be stored in the building now after previously being housed in the upstairs of the old administration building.
Williams said she was happy with their current office, but admitted it will be nice to have their equipment in the same building with them. She said the Mizell building will also allow space to conduct trainings in the office as well.
“We had the room that we wanted,” she said stressing the importance of the new location remaining convenient for residents. “We’re working with (the county) to make the building work as an office for us.
“We think it’ll be a good move.”
Harris said moving the election equipment to their new office could free up space in the old administration building for county personnel, such as the Economic Development Director.
“That could accommodate some additional office space that is previously used for storage,” he said, adding he will come up with a solution for the administration building’s storage in future upgrades to that office.
Purchasing Branford property
The board also approved purchasing a troublesome property near Branford at its meeting.
The property at 26475 85th Lane has had code violations that have gone unaddressed the past two years, Harris said, which has meant $70,500 in fines.
Sheriff Sam St. John said according to SCSO records, officers have responded to the house 105 times since 2004.
The county will waive those fines and purchase the property for the approximate $3,500 owed in back taxes with the goal of cleaning up the site and then selling it.
“This is a serious, serious problem,” Harris said. “I don’t mind telling you that a lot of counties will do exactly what I’m recommending here. When you have a serious problem out there, a drug house that’s being used, and typically they have a lot of code violations like this one does. The owners wouldn’t do anything, didn’t care, thumbed their nose at everyone.
“It’s just a mess.”
Harris said the county could bulldoze the structures on the property, clean it up and then resell the property.
District 5 Commissioner Ronnie Richardson said he’d like to see something done to help the neighborhood, adding the property didn’t sell at a tax deed sale due to the fines on the property as well as it being a homestead property, which made the problem worse.
“Fines could go on and on and on without us doing anything because of homestead,” he said. “There is actually very little enforcement on homestead that we can actually do.”
McAlpin resident Fred Martin asked why something hasn’t already previously been done if county officials know illegal activity has been going on at the site.
“The sheriff is right here. You said it’s a drug house, why don’t you tell him to take them out?” he asked. “Isn’t it that simple? If they’re using it as a drug house, tell the sheriff to arrest them.”
St. John assured Martin that arrests for drug use have repeatedly happened there.
“They get bonds and get out,” St. John said. “We’re not ignoring the problem.
“We’ve been out there a lot of times.”