Fulton County Commissioners on Friday signed a purchase agreement for the site of a proposed new jail. Under the agreement, the county is to pay $20,000 per acre for property currently owned by Rochester Concrete Products Inc. The property, 2184 Sweetgum Road, is located southwest of Rochester city limits between Indiana 14 and U.S. 31.
Commissioners’ President Bryan Lewis said the property is 15.4 acres. That amounts to a cost of $308,000 at the asking price.
“The site selection committee had been looking at quite a few different properties, and it came down to this property being the best for our uses,” Lewis said. “This is on the edge of everything, but it’s close enough to everything. It has what we need, and it’s a decent price.”
Prior to closing, the property is to be appraised by three certified appraisers. The closing is to occur on or before 30 days after those appraisals have been submitted.
The sale is contingent upon financing approval by the Fulton County Council and a soil test approval by Garmong Construction Services, the county’s construction management firm for the new jail.
“We have already done preliminary soil borings to make sure it is a buildable site,” said Commissioner Rick Ranstead, who also claims the site offers easy access to city water and sewer utilities.
Easy access to utilities was a noted benefit when the city of Rochester offered a similar-sized parcel to the county for $1 in July 2018. Mayor Ted Denton proposed the new jail could be built on Monticello Road, northwest of the city’s wastewater treatment plant. His pitch came when the county was considering a hike in the local option income tax for public safety. It was preliminary, without city council action.
Last year, county officials met with their counterparts from Rochester, Akron, Kewanna and Fulton to discuss the tax hike, which has since been tabled. However, the county did proceed with enacting two new income taxes for the jail.
Lewis cited several reasons, including flood plain concerns, as to why the city’s offer was taken off the table.
“Free is never free,” he said of the offer. “You could dump two-hundred grand in site prep on that property in a heartbeat, plus all the delineation you’re going to have to go through and all the permits.”
A preliminary assessment of the city property by Lawson-Fisher Associates determined 7.5 acres of the city’s property is in a flood plain, leaving 15.5 acres of developable land.
However, commissioners voiced other concerns about the property including that it would require significant excavation work, the possibility of buried tornado debris and the placement of an emergency communications antenna being in the path of the airport.
Commissioners also prefer the flatness of the Sweetgum property for development, but city officials contend that its purchase removes it from the tax rolls, meaning a loss of county tax revenue.
“My whole thing is why would we want to spend $20 million to build it right next to the sewer plant,” Fulton County Sheriff Chris Sailors said, giving his opinion of the city site.