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Boards finding annex answer: Officials closing in on replacing aging building

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The Bartholomew County Council and the County Commissioners are moving closer to a consensus on replacing the county’s aging annex building, according to several key players in the negotiations.

Council President Bill Lentz described discussions between his group and the commissioners during a recent council work session as “very positive.”

Creating a new annex would allow the nursing division of the Bartholomew County Health Department, as well as the Purdue University Cooperative Extension offices, to move out of the 84-year-old former State Street School building, which has been deemed a health and safety hazard.

Commissioners’ President Larry Kleinhenz agreed that both sides seem to be moving toward a financing plan that would tap into reserve monies, including a $4.5 million rainy day fund, in order to avoid raising taxes and incurring new debt.

Other potential funding sources outlined by Kleinhenz in mid-October included:

The county’s telecommunications fund, which Kleinhenz said receives up to $90,000 a year and has a balance of about $600,000.

The commissioners’ economic development fund, which receives about $250,000 a year.

The county’s economic development income tax, which receives about $1.7 million a year.

Kleinhenz and fellow commissioners Carl Lienhoop and Paul Franke want to spend $3.5 million to $5 million to erect a new building along State Street. Republican Rick Flohr, who will succeed Franke in January, said during the campaign that he also favored constructing a new building.

“I’m just not in favor of buying an old building and put $2.5 million into it,” Kleinhenz said. “We put a million dollars into the old Elks building (now Bartholomew County Court Services), and we still have an old building that’s not very functional.”

Lentz said he both understands and shares the commissioners’ concerns.

“But we’re not talking about a lot of people,” he said, “and I do think there are some existing buildings that would fit their needs.”

During separate interviews, both Kleinhenz and Lentz expressed a willingness to remain flexible in future discussions.

“It may turn out that a new building is better,” Lentz said. “But I don’t think that, as a council, we’re quite ready to make that jump yet.”

“Maybe a new building is not the best solution,”

Kleinhenz said. “We’ll continue to look at options.”

Lentz smiled as he noted the similarities between the current annex building discussions this fall with last summer’s talks on the selection of a primary ambulance service provider in Bartholomew County.

“I’m reminded that it was also kind of contentious when we did the ambulance. But at the end of it, it worked out for the taxpayers,” Lentz said.

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