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Editorial: County’s annex debate ends with benefits for everyone


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All stakeholders in the decision to build a new Bartholomew County Annex building can claim victory now that the issue has been decided after years of debate.

The Bartholomew County Council on April 22 unanimously approved $3.25 million for a new annex.

The 86-year-old former State Street School was converted into the annex in 1973 and houses the county health department’s nursing program and the Purdue Extension office. It previously housed the Women, Infants and Children’s clinic until it left in March because of safety and health concerns about the deteriorating building.

 

The annex suffers from structural problems and leaks in the roof, is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, has old and rounded stairs, and has sewer and plumbing problems.

Maintaining the building has been a longtime issue. County officials informally began discussing replacing the building in 1994 because maintenance costs were mounting.

The county commissioners in September 2012 formally told the County Council that a new annex would be the best option.

But elected officials could not originally agree on that or on what the cost would be and whether taxpayers would foot the bill. The council didn’t want to create a new tax for the project or raise taxes.

A study of the annex released in December showed that the cost for a new one-story building could be $6.7 million, while renovation costs could climb as high as $4.3 million.

The commissioners sought an attractive building that could spark economic development along the State Street corridor. Commissioner Larry Kleinhenz sought

$5 million for a new annex; Commissioners Chairman Carl Lienhoop asked the council for $4.5 million.

The council acknowledged in February that evidence showed renovating the annex wasn’t the best option. Approval of a new annex took a bit longer as the council approached the Cummins Foundation to pay the project’s architectural fees.

When told April 8 that the foundation requires a financial commitment from the county before considering paying the fees, the council promised to make a decision in two weeks.

The $3.25 million approved was recommended by a council subcommittee, which said the new building would be paid for from four funds:

$2 million from the rainy day reserve fund.

$750,000 from the telecommunications fund.

$325,000 from economic development income tax funds.

$175,000 from levy excess funds.

An additional $300,000 could be freed for investing in the building if the Cummins Foundation agrees to pay the architectural fees.

The commissioners, annex occupants and public win because they will get a new, safer building. The council and taxpayers win because no taxes were raised to fund the project.

Reaching this decision involved some bumpy moments over the past two years, but it was an example of democracy in action that produced a result that all sides can live with. And, it will produce a new annex that will benefit the community.

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