Bedford County Financial Management Committee and Bedford County Board of Commissioners' courthouse and property committee, each meeting Tuesday night, recommended that the county purchase the Regions Bank building on the square from State Rep. Pat Marsh for $315,000.
Marsh bought it earlier this month in an online auction and has offered to sell it to the county at his own cost, plus closing costs -- or, if possible, Marsh will simply transfer his purchase contract over to the county.
County Mayor Eugene Ray announced Marsh's offer during the finance committee meeting on Tuesday. Commissioner J.D. "Bo" Wilson, a member of the finance committee, said he'd been in discussions with Marsh.
The county had an interest in the building but had little time to meet publicly before the online auction at which it was sold earlier this month -- and, Wilson said, the county didn't want to tip its hand by publicly discussing what it was willing to pay.
The county's acquisition of the building is "a no-brainer" regardless of its ultimate use, said courthouse committee member Linda Yockey.
"The courthouse and the square is the center of the universe for Bedford County," said Yockey during the courthouse committee meeting.
Bedford County Courthouse has been suffering both severe overcrowding, to the point that officials had to prominently post each courtroom's rated capacity. On some days, there are multiple court proceedings taking place at the same time. The courthouse also has security problems, with various opinions having been expressed over the years about whether it can be made secure.
The county has, in the past, discussed the idea of building courtrooms in the Regions building to relieve some of the overcrowding at the courthouse.
Bedford County Jail is also suffering from overcrowding, and the county is now working with the state to explore various options for relieving jail overcrowding.
Some other counties building new jails have made them into "justice centers," combining jail and courtroom facilities under one roof, eliminating the need for prisoners to be transported back and forth between the jail and the courthouse.
Doing that would take judicial functions away from the county courthouse, something downtown merchants say would be devastating to their business district.
A Tennessee Corrections Institute jail inspector addressing the commission last week showed a photo of inmates being loaded into a van outside the courthouse and said it was an example of the type of security issue that had led some other counties to build justice centers.
Regions Bank remains a tenant in the building and bank officials said last month they plan to remain there regardless of who purchased it. The bank operates on the first floor of the building and from a drive-through branch behind it. According to sale listings last month on several web sites, the bank has about 7 1/2 years left on its lease.
The building was listed as having 22,131 square feet of total space and about 57 percent vacancy.
Ray and Finance Director Robert Daniel told the Times-Gazette the county would not be required to go through a bid process to purchase the building from Marsh.
Commissioners discussed the idea of using some of the proceeds from the sale of Bedford County Nursing Home (now known as Christian Care Center of Bedford County) to purchase the building.
Both committees recommended the proposal and referred it to the full county commission, which will meet Jan. 8.
Meanwhile, Sheriff Randall Boyce clarified that some of the slides shown by the jail inspector at last week's meeting were of nearby jails, not Bedford County's, and were shown with the intent of illustrating common jail problems. Boyce said that was stated but not made clear.
"I didn't know that," said Ray. Several participants at the law enforcement committee meeting said they, too, assumed that all the slides were from the Bedford County jail.