City council reconsiders whether to help health department pay for new building

Gina Prestridge, executive director of the Paris and Lamar County Health Department, explains plans for the heal department’s move at Thursday night’s meeting of the health board.  Clockwise, others in the picture are board members Kristi Martin, Dr. Mark Gibbons, Dr. Rick Erickson and Bill Strathern. (eParisExtra photo by Charles Richards)

By CHARLES RICHARDS

eParisExtra.com

The Paris City Council has changed its mind – at least for now – about financially supporting the planned move by the Paris and Lamar County Health Department into the 30,000-square-foot building in southwest Paris that once was the home of the Department of Human Services.

Instead of the health department buying the building for $200,000 and leasing the back half of the 30,000-square-foot building to the New Hope women’s shelter, health department executive director Gina Prestridge agreed this week that the foundation that supports the shelter will buy the building and lease the front half of the building to her department.\

“You know, halfway through, they change the plan, and I don’t know what they’re doing,” Mayor AJ Hashmi said Thursday night.

Mayor AJ Hashmi

“They need to bring it back to the council and tell us what they are wanting to do. I’m not sure, but if they need us to support it, we’ll support it. But they cannot just expect automatic decisions based on what they have decided,” the mayor said. “The council has always been supportive of the health department.”

Hashmi had scheduled a vote for Monday night’s council meeting to approve the $200,000 purchase of a building at Fourth Street SW and Sherman Street that the health department would finance for a monthly payment of about $2,000.

A draft of the agenda for Monday night’s meeting was posted on the city web site on Thursday, and it did not include anything about acquisition of a new building for the health department.

City clerk Janice Ellis sent the media an e-mail on Thursday, saying a couple more items would be added Friday morning before Monday’s agenda is officially posted.

Hashmi said there is still time for the health department to get on Monday’s agenda “if they want to bring it back to the council and tell us what they want. It doesn’t have to wait two weeks (until the next council meeting), but they need to tell us what they’re doing.”

The purpose of putting it on the agenda, the mayor said, ” was if the city was paying for it and we needed an agreement.”

Local resident Andy Fasken – appearing with Prestridge — proposed at the council’s Sept. 25 meeting that it partner with the RAM Foundation in buying the building, which has been vacant for 12 years.

“I understand the city is in favor of helping purchase the building and the county evidently is not,” Fasken said. “We’d like to step in and take the county’s position if that would help.”

The council had the impression that the health department would buy the building and lease space to others.

However, this week, city manager John Godwin received an e-mail informing him that instead, the RAM Foundation would buy the building and lease space to the health department.

“The only reason I found out about it was because the city manager forwarded that e-mail to me. The feeling now is they’re going to do it on their own and we have no involvement in it,” Hashmi said.

“There is a way to do things, and if they want the council’s help they need to come back before us and tell us what they are doing,” the mayor said.,

“There were two things that the council budgeted for the health department. The first was for the standard amount that both the city and the county give (about $80,000). The second was for the expense of the building, if needed,” Hashmi said.

“But it is my understanding that there is nothing that the city council is going to give them now, because that building is being taken over by Andy Fasken completely, and they will be renting it out to the health department for about $1,500 a month. So whatever was budgeted doesn’t matter anymore because nothing is going to be needed from the council.”

Prestridge told her board Thursday night that she has applied for some grants that would provide several hundred dollars of the department’s costs toward making the monthly lease payment.

The health department would have a 20-year lease, paying 4.5 percent a month for the 10 years. The interest rate would be re-negotiated after 10 years. After 20 years, Fasken’s group would own the building, but the health department would no longer have to pay rent. Fasken said if his group bought the building, it would also pay the $100,000 cost of renovating the building.

Prestridge told the health board at its meeting Thursday night that time is of the essence.

“The deal would close the first week of November, and Bobby Smallwood said they could probably finish the renovation in 45 to 60 days. We are going to move in phases, but I am hoping the health department and clinic will be up and running in the new building by the first of January,” Prestridge told the health board.

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About the Author
Author

Charles Richards Charles Richards moved to Paris in 2004 after retiring from a 40-year career in journalism – the last 26 years as a news writer and sports writer with The Associated Press in Dallas and Washington, D.C. In mid-2004, The Paris News coaxed him out of retirement, and he began covering the police, court and regional beat for The Paris News. Then in early 2005, he was switched to coverage of a sharply divided Paris City Council. He was appointed by the City Council in 2006 to the 12-member City Charter Review Commission, which extensively rewrote the outmoded document. His writing awards include two first-place awards in statewide competition for feature writing. The most recent was his 2005 story on a Paris doctor’s startling use of leeches in a successful attempt to re-attach a man’s severed ear. Over his career, Richards’ interview subjects include Alabama Gov. George Wallace, President Bill Clinton, President George W. Bush, David Koresh, Arnold Palmer, Muhammad Ali and numerous other political and sports figures. He is an alumnus of Texas Tech, where he was editor of the school newspaper. He lives in Paris with his wife, Barbara, who is retired after 30 years as a teacher and high school counselor.