County to include building project in 2009 levyCarlton County Commissioners performed their due diligence right up until the final moments last week regarding the proposed construction of a new health and human services building.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
Carlton County Commissioners performed their due diligence right up until the final moments last week regarding the proposed construction of a new health and human services building. But when all was said and done, all heads but one gave the official nod to the project, agreeing to levy $360,000 for 2009, targeted at financing debt service for the initial phase of the approximately $7 million project.
“I have to say I have reservations entering into a building project in the middle of such tough economic times,” said Board Chair Ted Pihlman, who cast the loan dissenting vote on the levy.
Commissioner Dick Brenner stated the time is right for the project, however, suggesting that the county would likely be able to utilize the state bonding rate, which is considerably lower, because of the project’s human services and public works implications. He also pointed out there might also be some economic stimulus money available from the state further down the line to put toward the project.
“There are a lot of hungry contractors and construction workers out there who would benefit from this type of project,” pointed out Commissioner Marvin Bodie.
Dave Lee, director of Carlton County Health and Human Services, admitted that although there is never a good time to approach a building project of this magnitude, he pointed out the county is dealing with two “very deficient buildings,” posing an ongoing risk due to recurrent maintenance demands, fire code violations, air quality issues and overcrowding.
The offshoot of the discussion was the approval of a 5.45 percent overall increase in the county’s 2009 tax levy, to include an initial debt service amount of $360,000 for the building project. According to Paul Gassert, Carlton County auditor, that increase is actually down from the original 8.38 percent maximum approved last September. He said approximately 1 percent of the levy reduction came from lower than anticipated costs for fuel and out-of-county prisoner boarding fees. Much of the balance, however, came from the board’s decision to reduce the initial debt service levy for the building project from approximately $700,000 to $360,000. Part of that reduction is the result of cost efficiencies identified through talks with the city of Cloquet, the site where the building would be located.
The board has been discussing the need for a new health and human services for the past two decades, but it wasn’t until last year that the county entered into an agreement with Wold Architects and Engineers of St. Paul to conduct a county facilities study to target and prioritize areas of greatest need. Among the top three earmarked were the need for a new health and human services building and renovations to the law enforcement center and court house. Further discussions led to a decision to pursue a planning and design proposal for only the health and human services building at this time. Following considerable debate regarding a location for the proposed building, the board agreed it should be located in Cloquet, citing existing infrastructure, patterns of use and population density as some of the key factors in favor of that site.
According to Gassert, however, the building project is far from being a “done deal.”
“There are a lot of things that will have to happen before this building becomes a reality,” he cautioned. “There are still a lot of potential ‘outs’ along the way.”
County Facilities Committee Chair Mike Stafford stated if the money set aside in the 2009 levy for the project is not sufficient to support the final cost proposals, the county can still decide not to go ahead with it.
“You will know that well before you ever turn any dirt,” he assured commissioners.
In a further move at last Monday’s meeting, the board approved a proposed expense budget of $41,671,343 for 2009.