Former Jonesborough hardware store eyed for voting site

Robert Houk • Updated Jan 16, 2020 at 3:31 PM

The Washington County Election Commission is asking county commissioners to approve its lease of a former hardware store in Jonesborough as a voting site.

The county’s Budget Committee voted Wednesday to send a request to the full commission for $77,500 to cover the one-year lease of the 10,700 square-foot property. If approved by commissioners at their Jan. 27 meeting, election officials say they can move equipment into the vacant building at 220 N. 2nd Ave. in time for the start of early voting for the March 3 primary.

Early voting for that election begins on Feb. 12 and ends Feb.  25.

County Mayor Joe Grandy, who was asked by the Budget Committee to negotiate the property lease on behalf of the county, voted against the
Election Commission’s request. Grandy told the Press he is hesitant to “spend tax dollars” to lease an outside voting site if space is available in a building already owned by the county.

The Election Commission currently conducts early voting on the ground floor of the Washington County Courthouse in Jonesborough.

Grandy told committee members that a possible lease of the former Olde Towne Hardware building has “been batted around in one form or another for eight months.”

Election Commission officials appeared before the Budget Committee last year to ask for $975,000 to buy the property, which sits across U.S. Highway 11E from the George P. Jaynes Justice Center. Another $345,000 would have been needed for renovations to the building.

An appraisal of the property, now owned by the family of former Jonesborough Alderman David Sell, valued the 1.9-acre tract at $791,000.

Commissioner Jim Wheeler told fellow Budget Committee members on Wednesday they “needed to get this discussion before the County Commission,” while addressing a short-term need.

The committee also approved a one-year deal with the Pentecostals of Johnson City for that church to lease the county-owned former Princeton Arts Center building for a $1 a month. The building is located at 2516 E. Oakland Ave. in Johnson City, and neighbors the church.

The county had previously leased the one-time county school to Johnson City. The former Princeton Arts Center will continue to be used as an early voting site.

Grandy said the county has reached a deal with the church to address parking issues that have come up during early voting in the past.