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Committee reconsiders lease with local Ruritan

Public Works Committee members are considering a change in the lease arrangement with Washington College Ruritan Club for the convenience center located at 255 Bill West Road in Limestone.
The lease, which has been renewed on a five-year basis since the original agreement in the 1980s, expired in June and was on the agenda for consideration during the November commission meeting. Discussion regarding the current terms led commissioners to refer it to Public Works for further evaluation.
“The problem I have with this is we supply the labor and equipment, and don’t get a penny from the recycling,” Commissioner Steve Light said during the Nov. 24 board meeting. “We take the trash and pay a driver to carry it off.”
While the lease payment is only $1 per year, Solid Waste Director Charlie Baines said recycling from the center brings in an average of $5,000 to $7,000 per month for the Ruritan Club.
“I talked with the mayor this afternoon, and he wants to keep it on a monthly basis while trying to work something out,” Baines said during the Dec. 1 meeting of the Public Works Committee.
Highway Superintendent Johnny Deakins said the Ruritans initially operated the center with retired volunteers, but the county took over when they lost interest.
Baines said the county was supplying the paid labor when he joined the Solid Waste staff in 2001.
“So we give them $5,000 a month?” Commissioner Matthew Morris asked.
That’s the wrong way to look at it, according to Commissioner Danny Edens. “It’s our equipment and our labor, but the property is theirs,” he said. “We’re not giving them anything in my opinion because the property is theirs, and we didn’t have to enter into that agreement.”
Edens said the agreement is the problem. “They started it on their property to maintain their club, but it wasn’t a good agreement to start with.”
Changes in county leadership due to adjustments in commission boundary lines haven’t helped. “It’s in the 9th District now, but it used to be in the 8th, and it was once in the 7th,” he said.
In addition to providing the labor and equipment, the county also carries the liability. “All of the liability if someone gets hurt is on us because we lease it,” Baines said.
Edens is in favor of a stand-alone facility. “I said that 10 years ago, and I’m saying it now,” he noted. “But I don’t think we should make a decision without having a representative at the table from the Ruritans.”
Edens asked what action would need to take place for the county to move, and Baines said it would require the purchase of land and construction of a facility. “I have a couple in mind that may be possible,” Baines said, reminding committee members the new facility would need to remain in the same area because the convenience centers were placed in the county according to population.
Washington County’s other convenience centers are located in Gray, Cash Hollow, Lamar and Locust Mount.
Edens said he has been contacted several times by a representative of the Ruritans who are very anxious about the county’s decision. “I think we only have two options — leave or stay the same.”
Baines said the county conducts the full operation of the Lamar Convenience Center on property leased for $1,800 per month and has never had a problem. However, earlier conversations with the Ruritans regarding a lease-only status at Washington College was estimated at $10,000 per month.
Morris suggested offering a lease and $1,000 per month from recycling proceeds, while Commissioner Tom Foster proposed a 25/75 split.
Interim County Attorney Tom Seeley said it would not be a good idea for the county to get into any kind of profit-sharing arrangement, and offered to meet with Baines and a club representative to talk about the legal issues and the county’s pursuing other options.
Edens asked if the county is okay without a lease in the interim.
“It’s not the greatest situation, but nothing is going to change,” Seeley said. “We don’t want to let it go on for several months more.”
Committee members decided Baines and Seeley would schedule a meeting with the Ruritan and bring back a recommendation to Public Works.