By Carol Vaughn —
The Onley Town Council in a split vote approved leasing office space at Four Corner Plaza for two years, in an effort to provide more room for town employees and for storage, and to address privacy and confidentiality concerns.
Officials for years have been discussing building a new town hall on property adjacent to the current building, but no plans have come to fruition.
The 3-2 vote was taken at an emergency meeting Tuesday, with Vice Mayor Rose Pierson presiding. Mayor Matt Hart was absent due to illness.
Council members Brian Corbin, who chairs the building committee, and Bill Ferguson voted against leasing the space.
“For the last 12 years the town has been trying to get a new town hall,” Corbin said, noting Onley has spent more than $330,000 to date, including for a septic system, well and plans.
“Unfortunately, the builder that we selected this past January … did nothing on the property,” he said.
Corbin said he plans to bring another proposal from a different company, to build a town hall the same size as the one previously approved, to the council for consideration at its February meeting.
“The builder proposes a 60- to 80-day start from permit approval and three to five months to complete it,” Corbin said, adding, “Renting a building is a departure” from the plan to build a town hall.
Corbin noted the town currently pays Onley Baptist Church $300 per month to meet there and said the Tasley Volunteer Fire Company offered to allow town meetings to be held at its fire station free of charge. Another option is the Onley Town Center, which costs $150 per meeting, according to Corbin.
He said the price to lease the 2,200-plus square foot space at Four Corner Plaza, $28,000 per year, is “just a bit too much.” He also spoke against the location, across Route 13 from the main part of town.
Ferguson called the lease “a band aid” that does not solve the problem and said “the majority by far” of constituents that contacted him were against the idea of leasing space.
Still, Council member Billye D. Custis said the need is not only for meeting space for regular town council meetings, but also for space whenever it is needed, including for committees.
“It’s more than a meeting space; it’s an office,” she said, adding, “…I don’t see this as a long-term fix, but I see it as what we need now.”
Council member Woody Zember said the town needs to be able to separate the police department from office space for other town employees and spoke in favor of a two- to four-year lease.
Additionally, he said any furniture and equipment purchased for the leased space could be used later in a new town hall.
“A year ago this month, we were all hopeful that we would have a new building. … That has not come about,” said Council member Claudia Harmon. She also said the police department needs to be housed separately from the town office.
After hearing from town employee Jayme Salazar and from several residents in attendance, the council voted to have the town attorney review the contract and if it is found satisfactory, to enter into a two-year lease for the space at Four Corner Plaza.
Four Corner property manager Anne Dize was at the meeting and said the owner will install an ADA-compliant bathroom in the space.
The tentative start date for the lease is March 1.