County Board OKs new Government Center concept
Portage County Board of Supervisors agreed to move forward with a $78.5 million construction plan for a new Portage County Government Center, but not everyone was in favor of it.
About a third of the County Board supervisors opposed the building concept with reasons varying from location to cost to uncertainty about the existing County-City Building. The 15-8 vote (with two supervisors absent) had County Board Chair Phil Idsvoog, and Supervisors Allen Haga, Jim Gifford, David Medin, Dale O’Brien, Charles Gussel, and Barry and Matt Jacowski opposed.
Voting for the plan were Supervisors Tom Mallison, Meleesa Johnson, Julie Morrow, Marion “Bud” Flood, Dan Dobratz, Bo DeDeker, Bob Gifford, Stan Potocki, Don Butkowski, Don Jankowski, Jerry Walters, Larry Raikowski, Jeanne Dodge, Gerry Zastrow and James Zdroik. Supervisors Larry Sipiorski and Christopher Doubek were absent.
The project will now enter the list of Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) process, which outlines a guide for when capital improvement projects across the county should or could be placed over the next 10 years. The grid assists the county in determining how and if to fund the projects over time.
Previously, county officials indicated that the project would move into the CIP with architectural design costs pegged for 2017. County Executive Patty Dreier will present CIP recommendations to the County Board at a meeting Thursday, June 30.
The existing projects that need to be addressed in the county though the CIP process are one of the reasons Medin voted against the concept, he said.
“I see no reason why this project should strangle every other major capital project for the foreseeable future so we can tout this project as having a minimal property tax consequence,” he said.
Preliminary and general tax-related information presented by Finance Director Jennifer Jossie shows the project funding over a 25-year financing example would result in a $4.3 million debt service levy, making the tax rate rise from $5.11 per $1,000 equalized value to $5.50 per $1,000 equalized value.
The debt service for capital projects currently makes up 44 cents of that tax rate; the Government Center building debt alone would make up 83 cents of the tax rate.
With a current capital improvements debt service levy of between $2 million and $5 million, Medin said, the Government Center alone would eat up those funds at more than $4.3 million. Just looking at various capital projects in the county that use those funds, he said, highways and bridges (estimated at $3.6 million for next year) would not be funded because there would be no dollars left in the budget for them. Add to that any major work associated with the Health Care Center or funds needed to renovate or repair the existing County-City Building – which are not included in the option the County Board approved in the resolution Tuesday.
“The remedy to avoid these problems is to continue the normal and historic debt service levy for normal large capital improvements,” Medin said.
Bob Gifford, who voted for the resolution, said he still intends on looking into alternatives for incarceration and other programming to deal with the high rate of addiction the county faces. In a previous Space and Properties Committee meeting, Portage County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Flugaur said 85 percent of the cases that come through the court system are not criminal, rather they are addition whether drugs, alcohol or other ailments. And the county Finance Committee recently approved financing for a drug court to handle some of these issues.
“If we go forward,” Bob Gifford said, “I’d like to see us go with no future expansion and see how we can keep it empty and repurpose some of this space (the existing County-City Building).”
The $78.5 million plan chosen entails constructing a three-story, 270,000-square-foot building attached to the County Annex. Also included in the plan is demolition of the Ellis Street building. Repurposing the existing County-City Building in some way is on the list, but with a “to be determined” cost, which means it is not at this point part of the total.
The new Government Center would include a jail to house a maximum of 200 prisoners, with room to grow if needed, and four new courts.
The county currently pays Waupaca County $32 a day for use of up to 35 beds in its jail. Since 1999, when the county first had a report from Kimme suggesting the need for a 200-bed jail, Portage County has spent about $9 million in transportation and housing of inmates to other counties.
County Board supervisors and Jossie said operational costs also will have to be determined in the process.