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Lee library gets final approval

LEESBURG, Ga. -- Moments after finishing up the first round of budget hearings at the T. Page Tharp Governmental Building Tuesday afternoon, the Lee County Commission gave long-awaited final approval to a contract to build a library branch/conference center off U.S. Highway 82 in southwest Lee County.

Construction CGM of Colquitt, which submitted the low base bid of $3.925 million when bids were opened April 22, was awarded the contract after the commission decided to take out six of seven possible deductive alternates. Those alternates lowered Construction CGM's total bid to $3,871,800.

Second-low bidder JCI General Contractors of Moultrie, whose base bid was only $2,000 less than CGM's, would have had the low bid if the county had included only the first or the first and second of the alternates.

"We decided to eliminate six of the seven alternates because those were things we could live without," Commission Chairman Ed Duffy said after the commission voted unanimously to offer a contract to Construction CGM. "The seventh alternate -- a kitchen for $41,000 -- was something we felt was very important to the project.

"We're very pleased to finally get this completed. We need to get this done and move forward now."

Lead architect Sonya Spalinger of SRJ Architects said groundbreaking on the project, whose total cost came in at $5,377,716, is on target for the end of May.

"The county attorney (Jimmy Skipper) will now review the contract, and the contractor will obtain the required bond and insurance," Spalinger said. "We'll schedule a pre-contract conference sometime next week to answer any questions, and then the county will plan a groundbreaking.

"I think it's pretty safe to say the project is on track to start up at the end of the month."

County Library Director Claire Leavy was all smiles after the vote.

"(The monthslong delay) just makes this sweeter," Leavy said. "We're very excited; we're thrilled. Once the contract is approved and signed, we'll be ready to move forward."

The bid alternates, which were prioritized and deducted in descending order of importance, included support canopies over mechanical room doors, walk-off mats at entrance doors, replacing sheet vinyl flooring with VCT flooring, a masonry enclosure wall around the HVAC chiller and removal of interior and exterior brick pavers.

Earlier in the afternoon, the full commission got budget hearings off to a good start by meeting with representatives of the Tax Commissioner, mental health, Building Inspection and administration offices. Commissioner Bill Williams, who with Duffy makes up the commission's Finance Committee, said the opening salvo went "better than expected."

"We actually found a place to cut $3,000 more than expected out of the budget (during deliberations with Tax Commissioner Susan Smith)," Williams said. "Of course, these first few (meetings) are the easy ones. Things are going to get tougher."

The Finance Committee has put together a plan to cut some $2 million from department head requests to balance the budget without a tax increase.

Smith had sought $415,481 in her budget, up from the current fiscal year's $351,822. Her preliminary budget total for FY 2012 came to $363,979.

The county's mental health budget is expected to remain unchanged at $12,250; building inspection's FY 2012 budget should land at $258,347, slightly less than its requested $259,947 but more than its current $257,989; while the administration budget request of $549,914 -- less than the current $614,895 -- is expected to come in at $540,914.

"I don't expect there to be any big problems with this budget," County Administrator Tony Massey said. "It's become standard procedure with this group; there shouldn't be any real surprises.

"Today marks the first steps toward a balanced budget."

Scheduled to come before the board today are representatives of Information Technology, Utility Services, EMS, Superior Court and the Utilities Authority. Scheduled for Thursday meetings are the Tax Assessor's office, the county coroner, the Lee Fire Department and the Elections office.

Meetings today, Thursday and Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of next week are scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m.