Controversy continues in Jackson over resource center demolitionJACKSON — Jackson County commissioners met in closed session Tuesday to discuss a threatened injunction that, if filed, could halt demolition of the 1938 portion of the Jackson County Resource Center.
JACKSON — Jackson County commissioners met in closed session Tuesday to discuss a threatened injunction that, if filed, could halt demolition of the 1938 portion of the Jackson County Resource Center.
Before the meeting was closed to the public, tensions over the building flared between commissioners and members of the public during discussion of the county’s 2011-2015 Capital Improvement Plan.
“We need reductions in property taxes. We can’t be looking at places to expand government and increase our taxes,” said Mike Handzus of Lakefield, who ran for a seat on the county board in 2008.
Handzus advocated utilizing existing county buildings rather than building new ones and asked why the county’s highway facility in Jackson was $4 million compared to the $700,000 facility in Lakefield.
Jackson County Highway Engineer Tim Stahl answered that the $4 million facility will be much larger and will include offices, shops and many other components the Lakefield building will not, although both buildings are being called “highway shops.”
Handzus also criticized the building of walking and biking trails in the county, the expansion of a Jackson County park.
“Another issue with all these trails, it’s infringing on private property rights of people who are adjacent to this, and they’re going to have trespass issues,” Handzus said. “… and the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) is getting involved with it. If there’s one agency you don’t want to deal with, it’s the DNR.”
The second speaker, Cheryl Brooks, is the vice president of the Jackson Preservation Alliance, whose stated mission is to preserve historic buildings and educate the public about local history and preservation.
Brooks wanted to address the Capital Improvement Plan’s justification for the county’s prioritization of a new human services and resource center over a new highway department building.
“It seems to me that there is much more justification for the county maintenance facility,” Brooks said. “I don’t know why the board felt it was so necessary to forward the county services building ahead of this one. The building is falling down, absolutely falling down… the (Resource Center) is solid, strong, and with a little repair, will last many more years.”
“That was a decision made about seven years ago,” said Commissioner Roger Ringkob, chairman of the board. “This thing started in 2003, I think. Whether that was the right decision at the time … that was the decision made at that time.”
Commissioner Rosemary Schultz noted the county usually takes its cues on what projects to prioritize from its department heads.
“(The highway department project) is right around the corner, too,” said Commissioner David Henkels. “… the Human Services building was in very desperate need of something being done there, and that’s being taken forward, as you know. It’s been sold, so we’re moving forward with replacing it.”
The Jackson County Resource Center has been a topic of public debate for years, with initial discussions revolving around collaboration with the city of Jackson and later discussions centering on the replacement of the cramped Jackson County Human Services facility.
The Jackson City/County Facilities Committee studied and city and county facilities, assessed needs and, Jan. 11, 2006, advocated building a city-county facility at the cost of about $8.72 million. At that point, the committee had met more than 40 times for more than 100 hours over two years.
After that, the Resource Center Citizens Committee, a group of approximately 30 people that included people from each district of the county, met to consider the issue, ultimately in May 2007 recommending renovation of the 1962 portion of the building, with the 1938 portion to be retained for two years in hopes of preservation.
A third committee, the Building Options Comparison Committee, sought to clarify the options and compare costs of all options, making its report in July 2008. That committee found renovating part of the building would cost about $1.3 million less than building new. The group also warned that renovation would be less energy-efficient, more difficult to expand and give the building only an additional 50 years of operation, compared to a possible 100-year life span of a new building.
Brooks asked the commissioners if they really felt their plan for the county services building was the best they could come up with.
“Absolutely,” Henkels answered without hesitation.
“That’s going to cost a lot more than even the inflated renovation of the ’38 building,” Brooks said.
“No,” Henkels replied.
“Your estimation was $7.1 million, and you’re going to spend $8.5,” Brooks said.
Henkels answered the increase in cost was because the building was being put up in phases rather all at once.
“It’s still costing more,” Brooks said. “… so can’t you look at renovation first, before you spend $8.5 million?”
“We have,” Henkels answered. “We have.”
“Not really,” Brooks said. “It was guess estimates and…”
Ringkob interrupted the back-and-forth between Henkels and Brooks with a reminder that the hearing was for public comment, not for discussions.
“I mean, you know, we disagree on those issues and we just have to agree to disagree,” Ringkob said. “You know, everybody isn’t going to be in the same camp on this.”
“This is our only chance to speak,” Brooks said. “We’ve never been able to speak before.”
Brooks and Ringkob both started to speak at the same time, and then both stopped.
“You have the floor,” Ringkob said. “But I mean, it’s for public comment.”
“Well that’s what I’m disagreeing with,” Brooks said.
“Yep, OK, and it’s well-taken,” Ringkob said.
“OK, if that’s your stand on it,” Brooks answered, and returned to her seat.
“What are we to make of the public input on this?” wondered Commissioner Bill Tusa later in the meeting.
Commissioner Loren Tusa noted the majority of people would likely never speak up about their opinions, even those who voted on them. Ringkob said he had received 16 letters against tearing down the Resource Center, but that 15 of them were form letters, and the other letter was anonymous.
Bill Tusa clarified that the demolition of the ’38 building had already been passed by the board, and that voting on the Capital Improvement Plan wouldn’t change that.
The board then unanimously approved the Capital Improvement Plan.
In other news Tuesday, the board:
- Set a meeting to review and discuss the facility study and proposal for the Jackson County Highway Department at 8 a.m. Thursday in the basement of the Law Enforcement Center, Jackson.
- Extended Jackson County’s recycling contract one year to give the county time to research other recycling options, including a material recovery facility and a single-stream recycling program.
- Discussed proposed tobacco ordinance changes.
- Assumed responsibility for processing permit applications for Large Wind Energy Conversion System Development within Jackson County.
- Approved the purchase of a new telephone system for county offices.