Local seeks action

Published 4:00 am Saturday, November 28, 2015

Monday’s Pike County Commission meeting rekindled interest in an unresolved issue when a resident inquired about the progress of restoration on the Rock Building.

Sherry Helms, who led a grassroots effort to raise awareness of the need to restore the building and funds for its restoration, asked the commissioners during the work session why no action has been taken.

“A group of concerned citizens began working on the situation about two years ago to see if we could gather interest,” Helms said. “We began to have fundraisers, and they were showing interest in the county.”

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Helms said the funds raised – nearly $18,000 – was given to the commission, and the commissioners seemed interested in the cause, even having the building appraised to determine its value. But as time went by, they “changed their mind.”

“I think from our group of concerned people putting a little pressure on them to go forward and do something with the building, they finally decided to have it appraised to be able to sell it,” Helms said.

On Monday, Helms told commissioners it is time to either take action or return the funds that were donated.

“The agreement was if something happened and it was not restored, the money would go back to each person who gave,” Helms said. “(Commissioner Charlie Harris) was trying to be ugly and said that the money belongs to the commission and that he wasn’t sure if it could be returned or not.”

District 5 Commissioner Charlie Harris said the commission has no problem returning the money, but the issue lies in making sure the money is returned to the correct donors.

“(Helms) wants us to replace the money now,” Harris said.

“The Commission doesn’t have a problem doing that. We just have to do it legally. We aren’t the ones who collected the money; she did. We will reimburse the money if she provides the names.”

Helms said that there is a record of each person who donated and the dollar amount of each donation; however, that record is not in the commission’s possession.

Since the fight for The Rock Building began, the commission has added funding for the Rock Building into the annual budget.

In the 2015 budget, the commission included $50,000 into the budget for The Rock Building. Those funds were not used. The 2016 budget included $50,000 more, so the commission currently has $100,000 in addition to the donated $18,000 from the fundraisers.

“I support (Helms’) idea,” Harris said. “But the commission does not have the funds to redo the Rock Building.”

Harris said that the Commission may decide to sell the Rock Building at the appraised value of approximately $110,000, but that will be determined in meetings to come.

Harris said the issue will return the agenda at the next Pike County Commission meeting as new business. Because it will not be listed as current business, the commission cannot vote on the matter unless they suspend the rules.

“It’s not an emergency, so I do not believe they will suspend the rules,” Harris said.

Helms said that while she would hate to see the building sold, she would rather see it sold than nothing being done.

“As much as I would hate to see it sold … at least it is a step forward,” Helms said. “If they do put it up for sale, I hope that whoever buys it will restore it and keep it as The Rock Building.”

The issue has spiraled into a political battle, as well. Helms said that if she had the time, she would seek election to the commission. “I would love to be on the Commission, but with everything I have to do every day, I don’t have the time and energy,” Helms said.

If she was a commissioner, Helms said that her goal would be to keep The Rock Building standing by adding a roof.

“I don’t know enough about the budget, but if they are putting $50,000 toward the Rock Building each year, in a few years they would have it ready,” Helms said. “They don’t have the leadership to figure it out and put it to use.”

Harris said that if Helms were willing to run against him, he would welcome her to the race, confident that he would be re-elected.

“Like I told her in the meeting, I have no problem campaigning to beat her,” Harris said. “I feel strongly that, if she ran, I would beat her. I tell her the truth, and I let them know what is going on with their money. I’m very conservative with money. I don’t like to spend it unless it will benefit the county.”

While Helms is not running for commissioner, she did write a letter to each commissioner. Harris said that she told them that each letter was different.

“She wrote that if I couldn’t support the Rock Building that she would find somebody to run against me,” Harris said. He said he didn’t know what the other letters said, but he thinks that they have similar messages.

The next Pike County Commission meeting will be Monday, Dec. 14. The work session begins at 5:15 p.m. with the meeting to follow at 6 p.m.