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Jackson County to build scaled-down resource center

JACKSON -- After another round of extensive investigation into needs, costs and options, the Jackson County Board of Commissioners voted 4-0 last week to build a scaled-down $7 million dollar county services building on the site of the existing 1938 portion of the Jackson County Resource Center.

"I was elected about a year ago, to the board, and at that time I had thought that the spending was excessive, and the building was excessive," said Commissioner David Henkels, who was not present at the meeting, but declared he would have voted for it. "In the meantime, we've reduced the size of the building, and the cost. We're down to minimum requirements now. There's no additional unused space that's going to be built."

The newest proposed building, at 28,785 square feet, would house the county's Human Services Department, as well as its Community Health, Veteran Services/Emergency Management/Drivers Licensure, Family Services and Information Systems departments.

Cash reserves of $2 million will be put toward the project, and the remaining $5 million would be paid for with a capital improvement bond, but the Jackson County Board predicted no tax increases for county residents as a result of the project.

Rather, the county expects to recoup about $46,000 in federal funds from the portion of the building occupied by Human Services, and also expects to garner additional funds in the future from wind tax revenue and the expiration of the JOBZ reduced tax rates for eight parcels in Jackson County.

If none of those expectations come to fruition, however, some additional taxes would be required. Those additional taxes would amount to approximately $8.78 per year for residential property valued at $50,000 and approximately $26.33 per year for residential property valued at $150,000. For an agricultural homestead with 80 acres valued at $508,300, the additional annual tax would be $51.99, and for agricultural land without a homestead with 80 acres valued at $407,700, the additional annual tax would be $71.57.

The board looked at three options in a work session -- a remodeling to modern standards, which would cost approximately $8 million, a minimal remodeling, which would cost approximately $6 million and building a new building for $7 million.

Previous building proposals were for a much larger $11 million structure, that would have replaced both the 1938 and the 1962 portions of the existing resource center. Some community members were unhappy with that proposal because of the demolishing of one or both buildings or did not believe the building was necessary and others simply did not approve of its cost.

Not everyone supports the new plan either.

"We're circulating a petition to stop (the project)," said Bob Pritchard, a Jackson County resident.

Pritchard stated he has until March 9 to get the approximately 285 signatures needed to force the issue to come to a county-wide vote, though he believes he will have more like 500 signatures.

"Basically, nobody in town wants it, and borrowing money in these economic times? That's foolish, if you ask me," Pritchard said. "If we're getting income from those wind farms, why not use the money to lower taxes rather than building a monument to themselves?"

At least one county commissioner regarded the $7 million building as an acceptable compromise rather than his favored outcome, and voted accordingly.

"In the end, I basically ran out of time," said Commissioner Bill Tusa, who had been trying to find a way to save the old Resource Center. "I just thought there were many (possible) uses in the community for the buildings. I looked at the senior center, a library, the police department... I had ideas, how I thought we could utilize the space that we're not using. And that is the biggest problem with the Resource Center -- we have so much space there that we're not utilizing."

Bill thought it was worth coming to a resolution on the contentious issue, in order to bring some peace to the community, and found the scaled-down building an acceptable compromise.

"We may actually need more space than we have designed for," Bill said, adding that he had spoken with an architect who claimed the county would not gain as much energy efficiency from a new building as had been suggested. Bill also hoped some materials from the old buildings would be salvageable, to the financial benefit of the county.

Bill knew he would have to make the decision on the contentious building issue when he was elected to the county board, but he suggested a public vote would help take some pressure off the county commissioners.

Henkels viewed the other building proposal, which would have cost $11 million, as excessive, but voted for the pared-down version, without the extra space.

"Hopefully, it's going to be built big enough," Henkels said. "I've got some concerns about the future needs of the county. I don't think they're going to be less; I think they're going to be greater. So there's not really a whole lot of room for expansion, unless we build a building that allows room for expansion, which is possible."

Henkels liked that the departments would be in a single building adjacent to the Jackson County courthouse, allowing people in the county to meet all their county needs in one place. He did not receive a lot of feedback from county residents, either positive or negative.

"The voters have the right to vote on it if they so desire... right now, the timing is right, the economic situation is positive too -- anybody can build right now because the interest rates are low," Henkels added.

Rosemary Schultz believed, while she was campaigning for election as commissioner, that remodeling some offices in town would be enough, but then decided having county offices spread out throughout Jackson simply wasn't efficient.

However, Schultz always wanted to improve the Human Resources Center, which is slated to move into the new building.

"It's very crowded and cramped. There's gals sitting by the pipes down in the basement areas and in tiny little cubicles, and you can hear everything," Schultz said, noting that data privacy was a major issue. "There's one bathroom for 33 (workers) and one bathroom for the people. It's not an ideal office setting there at all."

Schultz saw efficiency in moving the county services into a single building rather than spreading them out, and believed the bonding would be covered by new revenue.

"We're building a much smaller building than before and we're not putting any burden on the taxpayers, because we'll be using this new money," Schultz explained. "We just feel the time is right to do this project.

Commissioner Loren Tusa admitted the decision had not been an easy one for the board of commissioners, and stated he had not realized he would have to vote on the issue when he was elected.

"And if I could have put this decision off to some future board, that would have been wonderful," Loren said. "But to take this job seriously, you realize you have to make tough, sound financial decisions."

Loren believed the project would be a long-term solution giving the county the minimum space it requires, and also noted that construction costs were down 10 to 12 percent from their peak.

The building would be snug, he said, but the commissioners did not want to spend money just for spending money, and it was decided to get by with a smaller space.

"And this is one to two million dollars less than remodeling," Loren explained. "So I think the time is right to move forward."

County commissioner and board chair Roger Ringkob did not return phone calls requesting a comment.