Jacksonville to foot bill for $30,000 theft

Rachael Scarborough King
Star Staff Writer
Published: July 20, 2006

Criminal mischief and theft at the old Wal-Mart building in Jacksonville has left the city with another huge bill for maintaining the empty property.

Someone stole about $80 worth of copper tubing from the air-conditioning units on top of the building and caused an estimated $30,000 dollars in damage, according to Jacksonville Police Department reports.

Since the city is responsible for the building it will have to foot the bill for repairing or replacing the air-conditioners, Mayor Johnny Smith said. Jacksonville also pays the bulk of the $20,000 monthly rent on the property.

“It’s really expensive work (to repair the units),” Smith said. “We’ll have to have them repaired if we do anything with the property we can’t expect somebody to take it without air-conditioning so we’ll have to repair that.”

Jacksonville Police Chief Tommy Thompson said the thief or thieves accessed the air-conditioners from outside on the roof. A city employee checking on the building noticed the damage when he saw light shining through the roof, but the crime may have occurred anytime between June 24 and July 12 because no one was inside the building for about two weeks. The roof area is not visible from the street.

“It’s pretty secure … we restrict traffic, people can’t just drive in,” Thompson said. “You can’t see the air-conditioners even from the road and the closer you get to the building the harder it is to see.”

Thompson said the rising price of copper has led to an increase in thefts of tubing at construction sites and houses. The tubing can be resold at scrap yards.

“When it was a dollar a pound it wasn’t worth the effort, but I guess folks now can get $4 a pound,” Thompson said.

He added that the building may be “dangerous financially” for the city but that the police monitor it and it has working fire alarms.

“I think it’s adequately secured as far as anyone getting inside and doing any damage, but these units were on the roof and there’s just no way to secure that (if) somebody comes up with a ladder and climbs up on the roof,” Mayor Smith said.

Jacksonville has been unable to find a tenant for the building since it assumed the lease in 2004 as part of a deal to bring a new Wal-Mart Supercenter to the town. Smith said he recently was approached by a group that would like to open a flea market in the space, but that those discussions have not progressed very far. He added that he doesn’t think the damage to the air-conditioning will impact any negotiations.

“I don’t really see how it would have a bearing on that discussion,” he said. “We’ll have to repair those things one way or another.”

Thompson said police have no suspects in the case.

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