Franklin County hopes to use 18 acres of free land as a bargaining chip to lure the state and federal governments into placing a veterans home in Washington.
First District Commissioner Tim Brinker said Tuesday he has spoken with staff in the federal veterans affairs office and hopes to use the land as a local match to any state or federal funds that could make the veterans home a reality.
“Right now we are taking steps to establish the value of the property,” Brinker said. “At that point we can get with the VA and the state and use this as a positive for us.”
The idea of the county donating the land is nothing new and the prospect was originally suggested to the state in March 2016.
At that time, the Franklin County Commission agreed to donate its 60 percent portion of an 18.2-acre plat just south of the Highway 100-South Point Road intersection near the Phoenix II development to the state for a veterans home.
“We have more vets in need now than ever before,” Brinker said. “The administrations at the state and federal levels are also more veteran friendly than last year. We have a unique situation with this piece of property we can utilize to benefit the veterans and residents of Washington and Franklin County.”
In addition to the acreage from the county, the city of Washington pledged to donate its 40 percent share in the property.
Also last year, Darren Lamb, Washington city administrator, said the land is valued at approximately $1,365,000, or $75,000 per acre.
Brinker said the property could now be worth as much as $1.5 million.
After discouraging news from the state regarding the priorities to repair existing veterans homes first and a price tag of $50 million to $63 million to construct a new home and yearly operating costs of $12 million to $15.5 million, the project was placed on the back burner.
Lamb said the city still supports the plans for the home.
The city is currently discussing several major projects that could be funded if voters extend a half-cent capital improvement sales tax at the April municipal election.
During the conversations, a water tower and fire station have been mentioned as potential uses for the property the city and county jointly own.
Lamb said the city’s plans would not interfere with the home. He said when the home was first discussed, the city wanted to know if the site could hold both a veterans home and potential city buildings.
Lamb said the city needs about 1-2 acres for its potential projects. He said if the St. James veterans home was dropped onto the property right now, it would fit perfectly with plenty of space for city of Washington projects.
“Both uses could take place up there,” he said. “There’s plenty of room up there at that site.”
When the land was originally offered, the current 150-bed veterans home in St. James was an approximate footprint of a facility on the Phoenix II site.
Using the same model, Lamb explained the home could generate 185 jobs with an average salary of $32,000, which would add $5,968,583 into the local economy annually.
Brinker said the economic impact has also been shared with the federal contacts.