After successfully renegotiating the lease for the Semmes Public Library, the Mobile County Commission is looking to purchase the building from its current owners for $1.3 million.
Since 2007, the county has maintained a $143,000 yearly lease on the property while paying annual operating costs at the library of $162,000 — far exceedings its contribution to other county libraries.
That disparity came to a head in February when two commissioners said they had no intention of renewing the lease with CVS Corp. Now both parties are moving toward an agreeable purchase price for the building county officials initially hoped to buy 10 years ago.
Commissioners voted 2-1 to move forward with purchasing the building using $1.3 million from the county’s general fund. The price point is a steep reduction from the $2.2 million CVS was seeking for the same property just three months ago.
Commissioner Connie Hudson, whose district includes Semmes, led the charge to secure the library’s future and called the pending purchase a victory for the library’s supporters.“This will help ensure the long-term viability of the Semmes Library, which has become such an important component of the northwestern part of Mobile County,” Hudson said. “There were 75,000 patrons, 10,000 plus active cardholders and 101,000 items checked out last year, and when you look at those kinds of numbers, you realize how many people are being impacted.”
While the future of the library may be secure, another point that arose from the controversy over the lease was the disparity in operational funding between the Semmes Library and those in other municipalities.
In 2016, the library received $336,245 from the County Commission compared to libraries in Bayou La Batre and Mount Vernon, which received $7,000 and $4,000, respectively. When asked, Hudson said she doesn’t anticipate a change in those numbers in “the foreseeable future.”
“I think what’s happened is there has been a greater realization of the impact the library has. It’s truly a regional library,” she added. “I think that’s really what’s come out of all of this.”
Hudson was joined in support of the purchase by Commission President Merceria Ludgood, who earlier this year had expressed concern with the previous lease agreement. Like Hudson, though, Ludgood concluded the facility “serves far more than the city of Semmes.”
“For the people I serve, and the county at large, I think it’s particularly important that we maintain it,” Ludgood added.
Commissioner Jerry Carl voted against the measure, citing the recurring costs.After the vote, Carl mentioned that some objections to the previous lease were based on provisions requiring the county to maintain the property and cover the cost of utilities and insurance. By purchasing it, Carl said, the commission was committed to those “for life.”
“It’s déjà vu all over again,” he added.
An appraisal of the property, conducted by M.D. Bell and Associates and obtained by Lagniappe, shows the parcel valued at roughly $1,328,000 — a figure below the $1.4 million fair market value assessed by the Mobile County Revenue Commission in 2016.
With the authorization to move forward, the county appears to be wasting no time finalizing the purchase. According to County Attorney Jay Ross, CVS has already made “a verbal agreement” to the terms of the sale. Ross said he’d expect the paperwork to be completed within 30 days.