For the last several months, the Wright County Board of Commissioners has danced around the issue of whether or not the county is going to invest to build a new Government Center. At the April 2 meeting of the board, it became obvious that the plan is to move forward quickly to finalize the process, even though a vote has yet to be taken.
Three separate items were discussed at the meeting that gave the clear indication that the county is going to construct a new Government Center. Those items included a detailed concept design created by BKV Architects for how the City of Buffalo could build a 400-500 unit housing development on the current courthouse property, a resolution to approve reimbursement for county funds expended for the “Tactical Training Center and New Government Center” and discussion how to tie in current earthwork being done at the Justice Center construction site to tie in the “potential” new construction of the Government Center and FBI-sponsored tactical facility.
As it pertained to the resolution seeking reimbursement from future “potential” bond funds for money already expended (estimated to be about $600,000) on the front of end of formal approval, County Administrator Lee Kelly said the resolution for reimbursement is a needed first step in a longer process to cover incurred county costs.
“We kind of have to, as I see it, put the stake in the ground at some point and any point there forward, whether it’s a month or two or several years later, we have to set this step up that we will be reimbursing ourselves via bonding,” Kelly said. “It’s kind of driving a starting stake to open that period of what would be eligible under IRS rules for us to reimburse ourselves.”
As he has done numerous times over the last several months, Commissioner Charlie Borrell wanted to make sure that his approval of the resolution would not be construed as his approval of moving forward with a new Government Center. He made it clear he has no problem with the FBI building, but can’t support a new courthouse.
“I’ve known for some time that my vote likely won’t matter,” Borrell said. “I’ve stuck to my guns that we’ve done a lot of building in recent years with the jail, the highway building and the Justice Center. Maybe time will prove me wrong because construction bonding rates are good right now, but I just can’t support another building.”
Board Chair Darek Vetsch said that the timing of building a new Government Center as opposed to repair the aging current facility and waiting 10-15 years to do the construction is based upon a funding formula previous boards never used, which led to a gigantic spike in the levy approved last December. He noted that the 2019 budget includes money set aside for the new construction and that long-term planning is in place to minimize the impact on taxpayers moving forward to avoid another big levy spike.
However, he added that when it comes to capital improvement bonding, a simple majority doesn’t suffice. Four of five commissioners must approve. Given Borrell’s resistance, that means all four other commissioners must be on board to move forward.
“For bonding, you need a 4/5’s vote,” Vetsch said. “That’s just the rules on it. To adopt our capital improvement plan on (April 30), we need four of five commissioners to vote in favor of it to move forward. We’ve known this for a while. We know where Charlie stands, so we’re trying to make the other commissioners comfortable moving forward. That is state statute, so you don’t have significant bonding bills passing 3-2.”
While the board has maintained that it still isn’t a lock that the bonding will be approved, Commissioner Mark Daleiden told the board it should could come to a vote soon because, in his view, the plan seems to be in place and needs to be made official.
“We all know it’s ‘when’ not ‘if,’” Daleiden said of the plan to build a new Government Center and, if money can be saved by tying the new project into the current Justice Center, it would make sense to make the matter official.
A vote on the Capital Improvement Plan, which would include the new Government Center was scheduled to be on the April 16 board agenda, but will be pushed back to April 30 due to a mistake in getting the notice published in the official county newspaper in the required time to set the meeting for April 16.
John Holler covers government and the Wright County Board of Commissioners.