By a 4-2 vote, Macon County’s Environmental, Education, Health & Welfare Committee approved the proposal that would pave the way for the project. The 109-acre campus in the 1100 block of North Wyckles Road could include drive-through recycling, county environmental offices, a compost center, a solar farm and community gardens.
The vote was nonbinding, meaning it would advance to the full county board regardless of how the vote went. A failure to pass Thursday night would have meant the project would be presented to the full board at its meeting next month with a recommendation from the EEHW committee to reject the plan.
Republican Jim Gresham joined Democrats Tim Dudley, Laura Zimmerman and Helena Buckner in voting yes on the resolution to allow the Decatur Public Building Commission, which manages county facilities, to issue the bond necessary to pay for construction. Republicans Matt Brown and Linda Little voted no.
The two cited several of the points previously raised by Republican board members about the proposal — that they’re supportive of the concept but they worry about such spending at a time when the county faces a roughly $800,000 budget shortfall in the coming year. In addition, the two also thought the project’s location should be reconsidered.
“I think there are other sites that may work better,” said Brown, who also added he thought it was “irresponsible” to spend millions of dollars at this time for such a lofty project.
Though he voted “yes,” Gresham noted before the vote he thought additional work was necessary before the project could become reality, such as creating an ad hoc committee of board members to address concerns.
“I think we need to do a little more work on this,” he said.
Details of the project were announced last year, with the previously Democratic-majority board voting in October to re-zone the site to allow its construction. The board never voted on the plan itself, and its future has become uncertain since Republicans took a 12-9 advantage on the board after the November election.
Several people during public comments and board members asked during Thursday’s meeting why they could not re-sell the land and look at a site closer to somewhere like the east side of Decatur. Several members of the Building Commission noted during and after the meeting that, as part of the stipulations that came with the purchase of the current site, the commission cannot sell the land or use it for non-environmental purposes.
Any violation of those guidelines, or if no recycling center, composting site or solar farm is built within five years, then ownership of the site would go back to Buffett’s private foundation.
Brown and county Board Chairman Kevin Greenfield, who was in attendance and raised concerns about the initial costs of operating the site, also suggested the department look into renting or buying a facility in Decatur where they could move their offices and handle recycling.
“I’d have no problem at all finding a building for you,” Greenfield told Rasmus during the meeting.
Construction of the campus would be covered through a 20-year bond issued by the Building Commission. That loan would be paid off using an existing tax levy and with no increases to existing tax rates, she said.
The county recently finished making payments on the bond for its courthouse complex and office building. Officials have said paying off that debt would result in a property tax bill savings of $12 per year for the owner of a $75,000 home. If another bond is not issued to pay for the recycling facility, that savings would be $18 per year for the owner of a $75,000 home.
The plan still needs to go through the county’s Finance Committee and Building Sub-Committee before it goes to the full board. Whether those committees sign off on the plan or not, Rasmus said it will still go before the full board at its Feb. 14 meeting for a final decision.
“I think it has been adequately studied and I feel the board is prepared to make a decision,” she said.
Contact Ryan Voyles at (217) 421-7985. Follow him on Twitter: @RVVoyles