County building taxed for space

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AIKEN --- The county's looking to move.

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People line up to pay taxes Monday at the Aiken County administration building on Richland Avenue. Many say the building is too small and poorly laid out.  Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
People line up to pay taxes Monday at the Aiken County administration building on Richland Avenue. Many say the building is too small and poorly laid out.

But where you go to pay tax bills or get county records might not end up too far from where you go now. Although council members are looking for a new spot to build a county government complex, they don't want to stray too far from the current downtown Aiken location.

"We're trying to stay here (in the city of Aiken) so that it's centralized," said Joan Donnelly, assistant county administrator.

But they've decided something new is a must.

The building being used by many of the county's departments is too small, badly laid out and, some say, has an odd smell. Departments working out of other locations are also strapped for space.

County officials would like a new complex -- but they want to be careful not to move too far from their current location, even if it means staying where they are.

Go too far west, and paying tax bills could become very inconvenient for residents in North Augusta or Midland Valley.

Get too far east, and folks living in Wagener will be the ones driving.

The consultant hired by the county to find property suitable for a government complex has been told to focus on sites within three miles of the current Richland Avenue building.

City officials would probably like that. Before the county officially hired Augusta-based Cranston Engineering to look at possible sites, they expressed concerns that the government complex might be moved farther away from downtown.

Ms. Donnelly said county council members don't want the future government complex to end up "too far from the center of the population."

There are at least three sites that are sure to be looked at, she said, including one near Trolley Run Station.

The property will have to be around 25 acres to accommodate the proposed complex, which could feature at least three buildings and 200,000 square feet of office space.

Consultants estimated last May that the new complex could cost $35 million to $50 million to build, but said the cost to retrofit the current government office buildings would probably exceed its usefulness.

Ms. Donnelly said that the Richland Avenue building would be on the list of potential sites, but that if chosen, employees would have to move into rental space while work is undertaken.

"This building would have to be gutted," she said.

The council has not had much discussion on the matter, including how construction would be funded.

Ms. Donnelly said they could get what essentially amounts to a mortgage from a bank, or issue bonds. There is about $12 million available in sales tax money, she said.

Reach Sandi Martin at (803) 648-1395, ext. 111, or sandi.martin@augustachronicle.com.

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