City Hall mold threatens health and budget

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By Mark Scohier, Staff writer

The health threat from black mold at Chiefland City Hall is forcing staff to move out by the end of next week and causing commissioners to cringe at estimated costs to fix the problem.

“Evidently, there’s a lot to do to address this mold,” City Manager Grady Hartzog said to commissioners at Monday night’s regular meeting, requesting they move $93,000 from the city’s solid waste and street paving account to the city’s general fund to pay for the cost of a temporary move, a 75-page analysis of the problem and, eventually, the removal of the mold and renovation of City Hall. An additional $7,000 was also requested to pay for materials to replace the roof of the Luther Calloway Public Library, which, though not related to the mold problem, can’t be put off any longer, according to Hartzog.

Although coming up with an early estimate of between $35,000 and $50,000 to address the mold issue, Hartzog, after reviewing the complete mold analysis, said he wasn’t sure exactly how much everything was going to cost until staff had a chance to consult with contractors and mold removal specialists. He said $100,000 total requested—minus the cost to fix the library’s roof—would keep things rolling.

“I have an issue transferring that much money without us having a plan or anything,” Vice Mayor Teresa Barron said, adding that she’d like to see estimates from several contractors first. Hartzog assured her that any unspent money would be put back into the account it came from.

Money has been tight for the city. Falling property values over the last several years has meant a smaller tax base. Staff, to no avail, urged the commission earlier in the year to consider raising the property tax rate, which has remained unchanged for several years. The commission even refused to adopt a roll back rate, which would have accounted for falling property values and kept taxes the same as the previous year. But the commission refused that measure, as well, which meant city departments such as police and fire rescue have had to make do with less, something they’ve become accustomed to.

Still, staff and department heads were able to slash enough to balance the budget. But it didn’t leave much room for the unexpected costs associated with a new library roof or a dangerous mold problem, first noticed in September. The city’s insurer, The Florida League of Cities, at this point is saying it will not cover the costs to address the mold. Hartzog said Monday that one staff member had already gotten sick because of the mold and that another one was potentially heading in the same direction.

So, the commission did make some concessions Monday night, unanimously agreeing to allocate $15,000 to pay for the already-finished report on the mold, costs associated with temporarily moving staff to the old City Hall building and the cost of materials for the new library roof.

Commissioner Rollin Hudson said the most important thing was getting staff into a building free of mold.

“How long do you think you can work in that old City Hall building until violence breaks out?” Hudson said, laughing.

Hartzog said staff would begin the moving process Dec. 22, unless staff needed to get out sooner because of health concerns. The $2,000 report already done on the mold is enough to start preparing bids for contractors, he said.

Residents who pay bills in person at City Hall will, after the move, need to come in to the old City Hall building, located at 15 North Main Street near the police department in what is the city's building and zoning department.