The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

January 8, 2014

Questions surface about county satellite office costs

By Brenden West
Herald Assistant Editor

---- — CLINTON — The cold weather postponed Clinton County’s public hearing on its 2014 satellite offices plan from Monday night. Even so, the Supervisors, Sheriff’s Department and Building and Maintenance Director all indicated there’s plenty to talk about.

Fearing for the safety of the public, supervisors Jill Davisson, Brian Schmidt and John Staszewski voted unanimously to move Monday night’s 6 p.m. meeting in DeWitt to Thursday. Country roads, they argued, would be too difficult to navigate, and the public deserved proper accessibility to have its voice heard.

“We want the people to have an opportunity to speak,” Davisson said. “We don’t want to put anybody at risk, and 50 below (zero) is at risk.”

Moments after they ruled to postpone, the supervisors opened a scheduled morning public hearing regarding the same matter.

The county has already completed Phase I and is currently constructing Phase II of its proposed satellite office plan, in which purchased office space was updated and renovated. The new, “more centralized” location is aimed to provide greater accessibility for multiple departments.

Now, Phase III — plans for a six-car garage and a sustainable concrete parking lot — is on the table. And opponents of those plans, said Davisson, have questioned if the estimated $700,000 cost from the county budget is an acceptable use of those funds.

“We’ve taken a piece of property in DeWitt and made it a viable property again,” she said. “There’s a price tag involved in all of this. And it’s important for the taxpayers who are paying the bill to have an opportunity to reflect on the costs.”

Corey Johnson, Clinton County building and maintenance director, spelled out the dollar amounts where they stand today. Combining the costs of the original building purchase, Phase I and Phase II, Clinton County will spend $1.332 million, Johnson said. Impending sales of both the old sheriff’s office and DeWitt annex combined with a $36,500 generator grant will offset some of those costs.

But Phase III re-ups the total project to roughly $1.660 million with $282,000 projected for the parking lot alone.

Johnson said it’s necessary for establishing a permanent concrete lot; the current asphalt lot sits atop dirt and at times grows grass long enough for a lawn mower.

“When you drive a vehicle across it in the summer time, you can watch the asphalt weave,” he said. “That’s because there’s soil beneath it.”

He added the new lot will have the appropriate storm runoff mechanisms that drain into the city of DeWitt’s sewer system.

“It’s more than just the concrete costs,” Johnson said.

As for the garage — projected to cost roughly $419,000 — Sheriff Rick Lincoln and five members of his department detailed numerous ways the county will benefit. The top priority, he said, was public safety.

“I know there have been some suggestions where we walk away from this for a couple of years and then do it,” Lincoln said. “It’s just going to increase our costs that much more.”

Members of the department specified they would use the new space for storage, vehicle longevity and securing large evidence items (such as cars).

If approved, the supervisors said that no new funds need to be raised from the general public. The money would come out of the general fund, and Johnson said taxes will not be raised as a result.

“Actually, taxes are projected to go down,” he said. “That’s why we did this in phases.”

He confirmed Phase III would “probably” be complete before Oct. 1, 2014.

If the plans move forward as is, Davisson said she thought the county was being “responsible” with its funds.

“I think that’s always been our ultimate goal,” she said. “When we do spend money, that we do it in a conscientious way and that we do it so it enhances the services for our constituents.”

And, after questions from Schmidt, Johnson said it was “possible” to bring down construction costs using building and maintenance workers. Inflation costs (currently estimated at 15 percent) may also be on the high side.

Echoing Lincoln, Schmidt added: “If we delay, we’re just multiplying the amount we’re going to need in a budget to realize.”

Since Monday night’s hearing was postponed, the county does not need to resubmit public notice. The new public hearing will take place Thursday, Jan. 9, at 6 p.m. at the Clinton County Fairgrounds in DeWitt.