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County jail project in limbo

FAIRMONT– Martin County’s proposed public safety center is on hold following the Fairmont City Council’s expressed intent to deny its request to rezone the land. However, after the county sent a letter to the city about the matter earlier this week, the council pulled a resolution to officially deny the request from its regularly scheduled meeting agenda.

Fairmont’s interim city administrator, Jeff O’Neil, said, “the letter provided information to the city that will be part of the record and consideration for decision making for the council.”

He further said the letter, which came to the city on Monday, included information that required the city attorney to look it over, which is why it was pulled from Monday’s agenda.

“There was no time to review the implications of what was stated in it,” O’Neil said.

As a result, the city council will hold a special open meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 21 to discuss the two items which were pulled from the agenda on Monday of this week, which is a resolution to deny the rezone request at 800 E. Margaret Street and an emergency ordinance establishing a study period and moratorium on the property.

“I look forward to good discussion at the meeting on Tuesday where the council can review the options and see where it’s going to head on those two matters,” O’Neil said.

On Nov.14, which was after the Oct. 23 meeting where the council indicated it would deny the county’s request, the Martin County Board of Commissioners held a special work session to discuss possible properties regarding the county’s building project.

County Attorney Taylor McGowan said that the board talked about the fact that the intended site at 800 E. Margaret Street could still be an option, but that it needs to explore other properties so it revisited some of the dozen plus properties that had previously been considered as a possible site and discussed whether some follow-up could be done on some of them.

“The rest of it was a discussion about the scope of the project,” McGowan said.

Over the past few months, the project, which has been in the works for over a decade though has been actively worked on in earnest since 2018, has been scaled back in order to fit the county’s budget.

The project was originally projected to be about $43 million and include both the county sheriff, Fairmont police and law enforcement operations and the court system though the latter has been removed, which has brought the project cost down to an expected $32 million for a 55,000 sq. ft. facility with a 50 bed jail.

The county has requested $1.1 million in federal funding and $12.75 from the state to help pay for the project.

McGowan said he wasn’t sure whether or not having a site locked down would affect the county’s chance at receiving those funds.

“I think having a site selected and being able to go forward probably wouldn’t hurt,” he said.

Now, McGowan said the county is waiting on its pending zoning application that needs to be approved or denied. He said he wasn’t sure what the council was going to do regarding the moratorium on the land.

“We are kind of waiting on the city. I think the intent right now is to explore other options if we need to do that,” McGowan said.

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