Regional partnerships critical, Dale chairman says

Dale County Commission Chairman Mark Blankenship

Some lessons learned from the recent selection of Enterprise as the home for the state’s newest veterans home were discussed at the Dale County Commission meeting Jan. 14.

“Everywhere I go people want to know how we got beat in the VA home bid,” Dale County Commission Chairman Mark Blankenship said about the Alabama Board of Veterans Affairs unanimous decision Jan. 3 to build the state’s fifth veterans home on 108 acres between Highway 84 and Highway 167 in Enterprise.

The decision by the State Board of Veterans Affairs to build a fifth veterans home came after a 2018 feasibility study commissioned by the ADVA to determine the long-term health care needs of veterans in the state. The study determined that it should be located in Southeast Alabama.

The official Request for Site Selection Proposals was distributed in July 2019 in Coffee, Dale, Barbour, Butler, Covington, Crenshaw, Geneva, Henry, Houston and Pike Counties. Most areas within those counties are beyond a 60-minute drive time from a state veterans home, the feasibility study found.

In the Jan. 3 SBVA press release announcement of Enterprise’s selection as the VA home site, it was noted that Coffee County was identified as having the largest veteran population projections according to the feasibility study. “Enterprise has a workforce to support the home as well as medical services available to support the needs of the veterans,” according to the news release.

The RSSP had sought a minimum of 27 acres of land to construct the $65 million 175-bed facility. The proposals received from municipalities and counties were evaluated in terms of factors that included the size and location, transportation accessibility, workforce, specialized healthcare services within proximity of the site and “any additional relevant information.”

The Veterans Homes Committee identified the top three of the 12 site proposals submitted and visited those sites.

“I don’t want anybody to think I’m being negative about this,” Blankenship said. “I just wanted you to see this, to go over it and tell you some things that I’ve learned personally from this and that we all need to remember in the future.

“The city of Enterprise put up $6 million. Coffee County put up another $2 million. The city of Enterprise donated 108 acres of land,” Blankenship said.

“The city of Enterprise will allow credit for water and sewer usage at $25,000 per year, annually, and the city of Enterprise will install water and sewerage at an estimated cost of $1 million,” Blankenship said. “All total their package totaled more than $11 million.

“I point this out to say to you that the next closest bidder was Andalusia with about $10 million,” Blankenship said. “The next closest after that was Dothan with $3.5 million.

“I will go one step further and tell you that Ozark’s was about $2.5 million in incentives,” he added. “But that is a mute point.

“What I think what we have to learn from this and the reason that I put this (photo of the Enterprise and Coffee County bid summary) up here today is because these things do not need to be a one-man show in the future,” he said. “Ozark shouldn’t have been trying this on their own. We should have been teaming with Dothan and Houston County, Henry County and Abbeville—putting our money together.

“There’s no way we, in Dale County and Ozark, can ever compete with that,” Blankenship said about Enterprise, Andalusia and Dothan. “We have got to start thinking more in a regional concept. This would have been a perfect deal for all of us to have gone together and built this thing in Midland City, in Headland, somewhere in that area that we could have all benefited.

“We might never have a chance at a VA or some other government facility but this might have been a Toyota plant,” Blankenship said. “There is no point in each individual entity fighting for these things when we can all team together. It is critical that we start working regionally.”

The next meeting of the Dale County Commission is Jan. 28 at the government building in Ozark. A work session begins at 10 a.m. and is followed immediately by a voting meeting. Both meetings are open to the public.

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