Commissioners approve courthouse renovations

The Warren County Commissioners signed off on about $767,000 in courthouse renovation projects during a Wednesday meeting.

But the decision wasn’t unanimous.

Commissioner Ben Kafferlin said that the county previously entered into an agreement with First Internet Bank for “financing to make capital improvements” to the courthouse, jail and annex building.

A contract with the firm ABM will cover some of the work – HVAC and the 1925 portion of the courthouse roof, among other thing. Kafferlin said the agreement with ABM “left certain other needs” unaddressed – the slate roof over the Main Courtroom, jail cell locks, the elevator at the jail, one of the elevators at the courthouse and signage.

He said Chief Clerk Pam Matve was tasked with procuring bids on three of the other items – the slate roof, jail elevator and courthouse elevator – as the county procured more funding than the ABM agreement required.

The total of all of the work is $1,174,556 but just bids for the slate rooF and elevators were presented for consideration on Wednesday – bids were awarded for $193,000 for the jail elevator, $229,750 for the courthouse elevator and $345,150 for the slate roof.

Matve noted that the base bid for the slate contract does not include any extra slate or decking repairs.

“Until they get into the project, we won’t know what that is,” she said.

Kafferlin suggested “anything above and beyond that” could come from capital improvement funds while Matve noted that the total could be less.

“The jail elevator absolutely has to be done,” Commissioner Jeff Eggleston said. “If that elevator fails, it would create major problems in the prison.”

He acknowledged the courthouse elevator project was “outside of the scope to some degree we had originally discussed. After reviewing the elevator, it essentially needs replaced at some point.”

Eggleston said it is “down quite often” and it “seemed to make sense to include this in the package.”

He noted that he was hoping the cost of that project would be between $50,000 and $80,000 and, on the slate, “wanted it to be about $160,000.”

“I would keep in mind that when we originally had this quoted, (we were) looking at a $1 million project to re-do the roof…. To have a long-term solution, I feel very comfortable with this.”

There was only one bid for the project and Eggleston said that wasn’t surprising given the specialty nature of the work.

“(There) aren’t many contractors capable of doing this,” he said. “(I am) thankful we got a bid from a reputable contractor.”

He said the bids all fall under the funds already procured and noted this “isn’t a new project.”

“I was not in agreement with ABM, nor the financing,” Commissioner Cindy Morrison said. “The process that we undertook was not the most economic for the taxpaying citizens. I feel that this is (a) considerable loan that the two of you have agreed to undertake. With that said, (I) think (there are) other methods we could have pursued” to complete the projects over the next few years “rather than loan out to such an amount.”

Kafferlin said he is “thrilled” to be “dealing with long-standing issues…. (We have) been discussing all of these issues… for years now. We have stopped kicking the can down the road.”

He said he views this as the “most fiscally responsible way to dewal with” the projects. “(The) timing is just perfect. I am proud of our staff for having driven this to completion.”

“We were debt free a matter of months ago,” Morrison said, and “undertook this huge amount of debt.”

She reiterated that there was “another process we could have taken” and Kafferlin asked what she meant.

“(We) could have taken each project solely on its own value,” she said.

“Which we did,” Kafferlin said.

Morrison then proposed loans for each individual project – rather than one collective – and argued there was “no need to take out (a) considerable amount of debt.”

Kafferlin argued that going at the project in “volume” is what “enabled the interest rate to be favorable. If (we) go out to find on a financing component on each of these, it certainly would have cost more money.”

Eggleston described this series of projects as “revenue neutral.”

“If we had taken this piecemeal,” he said, “we would have spent way more in debt.”

On the roof project, he said that “this is not something we have sat on. I initiated the feasibility study that looked at the roof.”

Eggleston said he has “never” seen a written proposal from Morrison, suggesting that if members have plans to address those issues “please write it down and provide it to the other members of the board so (they) can review it. What’s happened (is) we come to these meetings (and) have to have an argument” on the day an item is passed.

Kafferlin then ended the debate.

“I will describe this as a shell game at its finest,” Morrison alleged.

Eggleston said he wanted “to hear why (this) is a shell game” but the board moved to a vote on the issue, which passed 2-1 with Morrison in opposition.