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Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

Purchase of First Financial Bank moves ahead

No objections to consolidate municipal offices

By William Kincaid
CELINA - Only three members of the public, one being interim police chief Calvin Freeman, attended a forum held Monday night to learn about the city's pending deal to purchase the First Financial Bank on Main Street.
Afterward at a special meeting, council members unanimously approved second reading of ordinances authorizing the $1.95 million purchase and appropriating the necessary funds.
"To me, it's just a no-brainer, and I think the public sees it that way," councilman Jeff Larmore said. "This has definitely been a positive thing so far."
Councilman Myron Buxton agreed with Larmore, pointing out he too has received positive calls from the public about the purchase.
"We don't want another building sitting empty uptown," he said. "Who else would buy this?"
"We're making an investment in Celina," councilman Bill Sell added.
Once the purchase is authorized, the city will consolidate most of its offices in the 36,000-square-foot building across from city hall.
"We've got an opportunity that makes sense all the way around the board and for decades into the future," mayor Jeff Hazel said.
The city would borrow internally from the electric fund, which has $8.96 million, to complete the transaction. It would pay itself back over seven years at a fixed annual rate of 0.21 percent with revenue from the water, wastewater and general fund.
Earlier in the day, Walt Fleck, who previously served on city council for 30 years, told the newspaper he supports the purchase as long as the city installs a drive-thru window to allow people, especially the disabled and handicapped, to pay their utility bills and conduct other business without getting out of their vehicles.
Council members addressed Fleck's concern at the meeting, with some agreeing.
Sovinski said he would prefer the city install a drive-thru in the parking lot of the bank building, similar to the one Walmart utilizes for prescriptions.
"And I don't think that would be that cost prohibitive to do that," he said.
Hazel said the city is reviewing possible locations for a drive-thru window. He also noted the bank building has about 100 parking spaces when spots on Fulton and Main streets are taken into consideration.
He estimated the city could take ownership of the building on or about June 1.
"The very first people to move in would be the police department," Hazel said. "We won't be in a rush to move (the other) people in. We want to do it systematically so we're not tripping over each other."
The city would sell its utility building on Market Street once all of the departments are moved into the bank building. The building was purchased in 1962 for $108,000 and is currently assessed at $260,000.
A couple of parties are interested in the property, and council members must set a minimum price for it in the future, Hazel said
Since the property was purchased with money from the general fund, revenue generated from its sale would have to go back to the general fund and could help pay back the internal loan used to finance the bank building deal, Hazel said.
Final readings of the two ordinances authorizing the purchase and appropriating the necessary funds will take place at 7 p.m. Monday at city hall during the regular council meeting.
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