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City nixes lease, putting shelter's future in doubt

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Elizabeth City City Council has rejected Pasquotank's offer to lease the entire former Albemarle Regional Health Services building off Harney Street, shown here Tuesday, Oct. 30.

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Saturday, February 23, 2019

The future of a new homeless shelter in Elizabeth City is unclear, after city officials rejected an offer to lease the former health department building for the facility.

At their finance committee meeting on Thursday, City Council voted 5-2 not to enter a lease for the former Albemarle Regional Health Services building at 311 Cedar Street.

The vote is tentative — the matter is slated for further discussion Monday — but it is a setback for a months-long effort to open a homeless shelter at the site.

Voting not to enter the lease were Councilors Jeannie Young, Anita Hummer, Rickey King, Billy Caudle and Mayor Bettie Parker.

Voting against the motion to reject the lease were Councilors Johnnie Walton and Darius Horton.

The city had a homeless shelter for women until about a year ago, when the Visions of Hope shelter at 709 Herrington Road closed and disbanded.

In June, after Horton persuaded councilors the city still needed a homeless shelter, they agreed to set aside $50,000 for another nonprofit to reopen the facility.

Though the city was able to identify a potential operator for a homeless shelter, Divine Inspiration Outreach, city officials determined the Visions of Hope house was in bad condition and should not be used, barring repairs to the structure that exceed its value.

Olson suggested the former mental health building as an alternative, provided Pasquotank County would agree to lease about 2,000 of the building's almost 11,000 square feet. The city wanted to lease only a portion of the building needed for the homeless shelter.

Commissioners rejected the city’s request, however, stating that the city should lease the entire building, not just a part of it. 

County officials gave their reasons for asking the city lease all of the building at a meeting in December. County Manager Sparty Hammett said the building would likely not draw other tenants if a homeless shelter is there. He also said the building's utilities aren't divided up to bill the city for just the part it wants.

Based on commissioners’ decision, Olson recommended council reject the lease offer. While the county was essentially willing to rent the building for free, the lease would have made the city responsible for utilities and upkeep of the entire building, he said.

“We're recommending you do not execute the lease; we do not believe it's in the city's best interest,” Olson told councilors on Thursday.

Based on maintenance and utility costs, Olson estimated the building could cost the city up to $75,000 a year.

Olson also told councilors the city's budget will be tight next year. If the shelter is a priority, he continued, the council should consider reducing donations the city makes to other nonprofits, such as Food Bank of the Albemarle, Albemarle Hopeline and Arts of the Albemarle.

Notably, Olson has also proposed almost $800,000 in raises for city employees — needed, he said, to find and keep people in key positions — plus $750,000 toward the cost of a new senior center.

Horton didn't detail Thursday why he opposed the motion to reject the lease, but he did ask the matter be put on councilors' regular agenda for Monday's meeting. 

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