Matt Lasley | GC News-Gazette City officials debated Monday night over whether to continue with the project to renovate the former Rite Aid building into a new city hall/police station as acted upon by the previous Leitchfield City Council or to wait and seek another option, as recommended by Mayor Rick Embry, middle.

Matt Lasley | GC News-Gazette

City officials debated Monday night over whether to continue with the project to renovate the former Rite Aid building into a new city hall/police station as acted upon by the previous Leitchfield City Council or to wait and seek another option, as recommended by Mayor Rick Embry, middle.

Monday's Leitchfield City Council meeting saw Mayor Rick Embry and a number of the councilmembers clash over the fate of the former Rite Aid building, which was purchased last year with the intention of repurposing it into a new city hall/police station.

The meeting was the first in the city's history to be broadcast live online, as well as recorded to be archived for future public viewing. The debate began when Embry sought approval from the City Council to invest the remaining $1.6 million balance of the construction fund for the city hall project into U.S. treasury bonds at 2.8 percent interest.

Embry has been hesitant for months about renovating the Rite Aid building, despite referring to the purchase as a "good buy" for the city. He has often expressed that he feels the building would be better utilized by a new business, as opposed to being used by the city.

His opinion on the matter hardened when, in December, the city was given an initial cost estimate by architecture firm Brandstetter Carroll for the renovation and repurposing of the Rite Aid building. The estimate was $2,896,613, nearly $900,000 above the original estimated renovation cost.

Embry also previously spoke privately with architect Mike Carroll, of Brandstetter Carroll, who, he said, told him that the city can potentially build a new city hall and police department from the ground up for $2.65 million, if it did so at another location.

On Monday, Embry said he "promises" to have a package ready by the end of this month regarding an alternative option for a new city hall, and, after speaking with the bond counsel, Hilliard Lyons, it was recommended that the city invest the borrowed money that was left over following the purchase of the Rite Aid building if it was not intended to be used right away.

According to City Attorney Dennie Fentress, the $5 million bond taken out by the city last fall must be used for the establishment of a new municipal building, but the bond ordinance does not require the city to use the funds to renovate the Rite Aid building for this purpose.

Leitchfield City Councilman Harold Miller said his issue with investing the money was that, at the previous City Council's last meeting in December, there was a 5-1 vote to move forward with the Rite Aid project, and now Embry appears to be requesting to tie the money up for six months and to also undo the actions of the previous council.

Miller also took issue with the fact that Embry's discussions with the bond counsel and architect did not include the City Council, and this sentiment was supported by City Councilman Kelly Stevenson.

Miller said that, before the City Council takes action to invest the borrowed money elsewhere, he would like the opportunity to speak with the bond counsel and architects himself.

Embry then questioned why the city would borrow an amount of money that is not sufficient to fund the total cost of the project, to which Miller responded that he does not know that this statement is true.

The construction cost, coupled with the $2.8 million purchase price, would take the total cost of the Rite Aid project above the borrowed $5 million; however, City Councilman Raymond Cottrell noted that it was also the city's intention to use funds from its surplus for the project.

Stevenson said the city intended to use $700,000 in surplus funds for the project.

Embry then said the city is not in the land buying business. Miller said that this is Embry's opinion because the City Council voted to purchase the Rite Aid property as a group last fall. (Embry, who was serving on the council at the time, did not vote to purchase the property, but it passed on a majority vote.)

Embry then mentioned his discussion with Carroll about building a new facility from the ground up for less than the cost of renovating the Rite Aid building, and Stevenson questioned how Embry could know that is true.

City Councilman Billy Dallas noted that every project the city has conducted has come in over what was originally budgeted.

Embry then said his authority is "24/7" and the City Council's authority is only during council meetings. He also accused the councilmembers of purchasing properties, such as Rite Aid and property on the William Thomason Byway, without asking questions or taking the time to consider whether they were the right decisions.

Stevenson said city government cannot be a one-man show, and there must be more transparency when it comes to operating it. He noted that there has not been one councilmember present during Embry's meetings with the architect and bond counsel, and none of them was notified about these discussions.

Following several more minutes of debate, Embry entertained a motion to invest the remaining balance in a treasury, which Dallas motioned to do because, he said, he would not sit on his hands and refuse to vote on an issue, but the motion died for lack of a second.

The first payment on the bond is due in June of this year. No decision has been made regarding what will be done to establish a new city hall.

In other business:

*The City Council heard and approved the first reading of an amended ordinance relating to mobile food vendors that would require them to receive a permit to operate for one calendar year (Jan. 1 through Dec. 31) as opposed to one year from the date they receive the permit.

*The City Council approved a $1 per hour pay increase for the Centre on Main receptionist, as well as a $1,732 increase in its annual contribution to the fee from Capital Link Consultants, a government relations, lobbying, and public affairs services firm located in Frankfort, Kentucky.