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City switches tracks on land purchase

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By Jeff M. Hardison

With little more a few minutes discussion, four Chiefland City Commission members decided Jan. 28 to switch tracks and table the acceptance of a bid offering from Perkins State Bank, which three of them previously agreed to accept.

City Commissioner Frank Buie reportedly broke his hip and was unable to attend the meeting Monday night. He had voted in favor of accepting the Perkins' loan agreement before.

A proposed loan of $132,000 to buy 33 acres of wellhead property from Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD) went sour. The City Commission previously had agreed 5-0 to buy the land. It sent requests for proposals to accept loans from local banks. At the most recent meeting, the city leaders agreed by a 4-1 vote that Perkins State Bank had the best lending rates for this land purchase.

Mayor Teal Pomeroy was the dissenting vote. On Jan. 28, Pomeroy said he met with Chiefland City Manager Grady Hartzog Sr., Fanning Springs City Councilman Stoney Smith, Trenton City Manager Jered Ottenwess, and SRWMD staff member Steve Dinges.

Chiefland Vice Mayor Teresa Barron was in the "audience" for that meeting, Hartzog said, but she did not say anything.

After the meeting with SRWMD officials and representatives of Trenton and Fanning Springs, Pomeroy said he was of the opinion that Trenton was not willing to go beyond only a conceptual plan for a regional water supply. There was no money to be pledged by Trenton for this project, Pomeroy said.

As for owning land rather than leasing it, the Chiefland's leaders changed their collective mind quickly after Pomeroy came up with an idea to seek a 99-year lease on all of the 160-acres SRWMD owns near a well-head. At the previous meeting, Smith had asked the commission why it was buying land when it had benefits of its use by leasing it.

Chiefland has a 12-inch well dug in this area just south of Fanning Springs. It is capped, but it is ready for use at some point in the future.

Now Pomeroy and Hartzog are to speak with the SWRMD Board of Directors at its March meeting to ask about a lease of the land.

In the meantime, Chiefland Finance and Projects Coordinator Laurie Copeland will seek a grant from the federal government to pay for 50 percent of the 33-acre purchase, in case Chiefland's leaders change tracks again and decide to buy it rather than lease it.

As for the bids from banks to loan the city money, they would have to be re-bid because those other quotes were good for only 90 days, Copeland said.