LEC construction pops back into play in Murray County
SLAYTON -- The Murray County Board of Commissioners spent most of Tuesday morning discussing finances, starting with a year-to-date budget review and moving on to a review of a proposed law enforcement center expansion and bonding options.
Based on first-quarter finances from 2010, the county estimates it will need to pull approximately $468,603 from reserves to meet budget expectations by the end of the year. According to Murray County Auditor/Treasurer Heidi Winter, the county is obligated by law to keep at least $1.5 million in reserves.
Commissioner Bob Moline expressed dismay at having to pull money out.
"How long is it going to take to suck the reserve down to nothing?" he asked. "(Commissioner Bill Sauer) talked a few years ago about having to raise taxes. At the rate we're going today, we're going to suck up the reserves in a couple years."
"Every government entity out there has been pulling out of reserves," Commissioner Kevin Vickerman reminded Moline.
When asked his answer to the problem, Moline stated the county needed to take hard looks at where it was spending.
"Where have we failed?" questioned Commission Chairman John Giese. "We've looked hard at everything."
This prompted Vickerman to voice his pleasure with the volunteerism rate in the county.
"At the parks, the fairgrounds, with the racing association ... people are really stepping up to volunteer," he explained. "I didn't see that when I first came on (the board). It makes me happy to see."
The budget could be much worse, he added, but the county needs to "watch it" because it has been pulling from reserves.
"That has been happening for years and years," Winter interjected.
Moline mentioned several times during the meeting that seven new positions have been created and filled since he had become a board member.
Vickerman responded by stating the county was "as lean as it could possibly be," adding that employees are crossed-trained and departments are efficient.
"We've got to start merging things together," Moline said.
The meeting subject turned to a proposed law enforcement center (LEC) building and remodeling project, which was first discussed in early 2007 during an informal meeting regarding projects to be considered. At the time, Moline told the other commissioners he did not want the project, estimated at $850,000, to be set on a back burner.
"We need to get on this at the next planning meeting," he stated at the time.
A year later, the county had moved from the talking stage to the planning stage and had paid Short Elliot Hendrickson Inc. (SEH) to draw up two remodeling options. Both plans use the existing building and square off the building that contains the LEC, the courts and law library and the 4-H meeting room. One option would add a jail facility -- a plan that was later discarded.
The cost estimate in February 2008 was approximately $1.3 million, and the commissioners were told if decisions were made in a timely manner, they could break ground in the spring and move into the new facility by Christmas. By December, the commissioners were still not prepared to send the construction project out for bid. A project architect requested authorization to put the plans out for bid by mid-January, but Moline asked that authorization wait until after a Jan. 6, 2009, meeting so financing options could be explored.
Shortly after the January meeting, discussion on whether the construction would fall under the "shovel- ready project" designation ground progress to a halt. Recent inquiries into a regional dispatch center brought the subject back up.
Tuesday morning, after a discussion about the LEC and financing options that lasted almost two hours, Moline asked for another week to "mull it over."
Steve Robinson of SEH and Murray County Chief Deputy Randy Donahue agreed that the plans designed in 2008 would still work for law enforcement, but Robinson said he needed to have his engineers review the plans and make sure no building code changes were needed.
He presented a memorandum citing a two-phase approach. The first phase, at a cost of $9,500, would entail completing the design documents and preparing and reviewing the bid process, while a second phase for an estimated $28,900 would include administering constructions contracts, responding to contractor questions, construction meetings and a final inspection.
If the process was started immediately, Robinson said, construction could begin early August, the exterior could be finished by fall and the interior work could be finished during the colder winter months.
"I would like to see the board move forward, at least allocate the $9,500 to put it out for bid," Donahue stated.
Vickerman said he was ready to move forward with the project.
"I was for it back then," he added.
"Can we talk about the financial part before we commit to a bid?" Moline asked.
George Eilertson, senior vice president of Northland Securities, presented several bond options to the board, discussing the pros and cons of lease revenue bonds versus general obligation capital improvement bonds.
Using a $1.8 million figure from an earlier set of plans, Eilertson broke down what the terms and debt service for the two different kinds of bonds.
"What about taking it out of reserves?" Moline asked.
"I would advise you against doing that," Winter responded.
After some discussion, it was decided Eilertson should run the numbers again using a $1.4 million figure, which the commissioners and Donahue agreed would likely cover the cost of constructing and furnishing the building.
After Moline asked for another week to mull more facts on bonding, Vickerman made a motion to go forward with SEH's first phase, which would send the project toward bids, but the motion died for lack of a second.