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Lengthy Cole County facility needs list exceeds funds

Lengthy Cole County facility needs list exceeds funds

February 22nd, 2019 by Jeff Haldiman in Local News

The facility needs listed by Cole County department heads during a Thursday meeting with the County Commission will cost much more than what the county has available for facilities now and in the future.

However, commissioners said they needed to get an idea of what was needed so they have a place to start.

Among the bigger projects discussed was the need for a new courtroom, with a new associate circuit judge scheduled to start hearing cases in 2021.

Cole County Judge Jon Beetem said he and the other judges in the courthouse would like to have the new judge be housed in what is now Judge Dan Green’s courtroom on the second floor of the county courthouse so both associate circuit judges (the other being Associate Circuit Judge Cotton Walker) would be on the same floor.

That would mean a new courtroom would have to be built; an expansion plan that had been put forth in 2014 to remodel the old jail adjacent to the courthouse could be looked at again. Shelved at the time because of its then $3 million price tag, the plan included space for a courtroom as well as office space for the judge and his staff and possibly other county offices.

Beetem said they would like for the courtroom to have space for 100 people to sit as well as a jury box. Beetem added while there are two jury rooms now in the courthouse, there is still insufficient space to try and do two jury trials at the same time. He noted, during jury selections with another jury trial taking place, people have lined up outside the courthouse to get in and had to sit on steps or stand while the selection process takes place.

Sheriff John Wheeler said he did not anticipate any additional burdens on his department with the new judge coming in, but Prosecuting Attorney Locke Thompson said it could lead to him needing more personnel and that would mean he would need more space. The prosecutor’s office is located on the top floor of the courthouse annex.

Another project brought up was by Prenger Family Center Director Michael Couty who said they have been informed that under new federal guidelines, by 2021, they would have to hold juveniles who are certified as adults for a crime throughout the time their case is in the court system. He said, currently, once they are certified, they go to the county jail. Couty said bringing Prenger up to the standards needed would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Collecter Larry Vincent and Recorder Judy Ridgeway said they were satisfied with where their offices were on the first floor of the courthouse annex, adding space was adequate and they had good access for the public. Both, however, agreed it would be beneficial if their offices were within easy access of the county assessor to better serve the public. The assessor is currently housed at the Carnegie Building on Adams Street.

Public Works Director Larry Benz said, in the short term, they need to replace the fuel pumps at the county maintenance facility on Monticello Road, which are also used by the sheriff’s department and county ambulances. He said the estimate to replace them is $47,700. Benz also said they would propose a surcharge of 5-10 cents per gallon to help pay off the costs for the pumps, which Sheriff Wheeler said he would support.

In the long term, Benz said they do need to look at replacing the maintenance facility itself. He said they need to expand the truck bays to make room for repairs to get trucks back on the road as well as more office space for staff. How much an entire new facility would cost is unknown, but Benz said the commission’s purchase a few years ago of some land next to the facility, where a gas station stood, could help with expansion.

Information Systems Director Brian Ridenhour said he was still waiting to see where commissioners wanted to house him in the future. Right now, that’s in the basement of the county courthouse, but there has been discussion of moving Information Systems to space available in the county jail or possibly at the old health department building on Industrial Boulevard.

Western District Commissioner Kris Scheperle suggested the least expensive route would probably have Ridenhour stay in his current location and get a generator for backup power; a final decision has yet to be made.

Wheeler suggested commissioners proceed with a space needs study at the county jail, which was discussed last year when there were conversations about making use of the interstitial floor. That floor has 27,000 square feet of empty space below the current jail floor. It could be used for more cells to house prisoners, particularly federal prisoners, which could bring more money to the county for housing them.

Cole County EMS Chief Matt Lindewirth said the ambulance service would like to see two stations within the Jefferson City limits to help with response times. He said one ambulance could be based on the west side of town and they would like an east side station with two ambulances. One of those would replace the ambulance currently housed at the sheriff’s department.

Facilities Director Greg Camp noted facility and equipment improvements, which make up 15 percent of the county half-cent capital improvement sales tax funds, could be used to pay for some of the costs. However, they estimate that would only be $850,000-$900,000 a year. The current tax runs through 2021. Camp said while you might be able to do one big project, such as replace the HVAC at the courthouse annex for an estimated $650,000, the costs for what really needs to be done overall to that building and other county facilities will cost much more.

He estimated the needs that should be addressed at the county courthouse could cost as much as $6 million.

“We need to keep an open mind and prioritize what we feel is most needed,” Eastern District Commissioner Jeff Hoelscher said. “The white elephant in the room is money. We have a healthy reserve and we could dip into it, but I don’t want to just yet.”

Auditor Kristen Berhorst said while there is $32 million overall in reserves, that was comprised of several funds, some of which are not controlled by the commission or that are earmarked for specific purposes that couldn’t be used for facilities.