The Grant County Board of Commissioners held a public hearing on November 16 to provide information regarding their intention to issue general obligation capital improvement plan bonds and proposal to adopt a capital improvement plan. As noted in the notice in the October 28 Grant County Herald, if a petition requesting a vote on the issuance of the bonds is signed by voters equal to five percent of the votes cast in the county in the last county general election, and if that petition is filed with the county within thirty days after this public hearing, then the bonds may only be issued upon obtaining the approval of the majority of the voters. The county would be responsible for the costs of this election if it is held before the general election in November of 2016.
The Elbow Lake Community Center was filled with around fifty people. Grant County Commissioner Chair Keith Swanson called the meeting to order and explained the procedure of the hearing. Jim Standish explained the five year improvement plan by going through the booklet that was available to all at the hearing. A five year plan must be in place to allow the commissioners to ask for a bond for improvements. After Standish went through the plan, the floor was opened to people who wished to comment.
Troy Johnsrud asked if they approved the $7 million bond, did they have to use it all at one time? The response was that, ‘no’ the improvements can be spread out over a period of time.
Chris Spaulding wondered if the state was going to combine the Social Services offices and if local offices would even be around in a few years. Social Services director, Stacy Hennen assured her that she has not seen any plans like this, and that in fact, the state wants locally based Social Service offices. She also mentioned that part of their need for more space is that there are many regional meetings that could take place in Grant County if there was space - right now their biggest meeting room holds just 10 people. Stacy indicated that another reason for the space need is that we already are doing many projects on a regional basis and sharing staff as well as working together on programs for Grant County. Stacy also related that their staff has grown in the last few years - primarily due to regulations passed down to them from the state regarding the number of people required to serve the specific number of clients they have coming in for help. Later in the meeting Stacy also said that the federal government would be reimbursing Social Services for ‘rent’ Social Services would pay the county for the space. It is common for a Social Services department to pay rent to the county and attain Federal reimbursement for approximately half the rent paid. She mentioned an amount of $100,000 per year.
Mark Myron asked, “If land values go down, would the tax assessment go down as well?” He was told that was a question for the Assessor to answer and they would check it out. Val Jean Buss was similarly worried about ‘if the price of corn goes down’ would the taxes be less? According to the five year plan handout, tax impact on a $100,000 home would be $21 per year. Farm acreage would be taxed on the value and number of acres owned.
Myron also asked if any jobs would be created by the improvements. Stacy Hennen replied that she has already seen additional jobs and would expect some more if we have the capacity to host regional work. She also mentioned that they generate income from other counties for services they perform and could do more of that in the future. Regarding this same question about jobs, Sheriff Dwight Walvatne answered, “No.” He related that they (the sheriff’s department)has a real safety concern with their location at this time. He mentioned the windows, and also the problems dealing with prisoners/drug testing on-site as well. The building of a Sheriff’s Department facility could be a ways ‘down the road,’ according to the commissioners, but it still needed to be included in the five year plan.
Other questions were asked regarding the overlapping debt that is still in place from the improvements to the courthouse. Keith Swanson stated that they can’t guarantee that needs aren’t going to come up that have to be addressed even though the ‘old’ debt is not off the books. If the bond did come to a vote one person wanted to know if ‘it’s all or nothing’ for the bond. County Attorney Justin Anderson said that the plan would be to bond for a maximum of $7 million. But the board could amend that amount if the vote failed. They would have 180 days to propose another bond. If that failed, they would need to wait a year to ask for another bond.
Troy Johnsrud asked if a private builder had been looked into to build the building for Social Services. Todd Schneeberger replied that ‘Yes’ that was the initial plan. But as it turned out, the amount of ‘rent’ paid to this private owner over time was more than it would cost for the county to own the building, largely because of the taxes that would be built into a lease and the fact that the county can get a lower interest rate for a bond than private investors could give us.
Bob Ehlers wondered ‘what is the board’s priority’ for improvements. Commissioner Wagner responded by saying he believed that the Social Services building was very important.
People were not clear on understanding why the initial $4.4 million that was talked about, had now become up to $7 million. The commissioners recounted the fact that once it was clear that having the Social Services building built by a private company was not feasible, they had to follow rules and were required to put together a five year needs assessment plan including other department needs (thus increasing the dollar amount) in order to have a hearing, issue a bond, and proceed with any improvements. Kelly Gerber asked if possible overruns on the cost of the Social Services building were taken into account. Keith Swanson said that they have a maximum price guarantee from the possible building. Tom Trosvig, the possible builder, confirmed this guarantee. When asked about the plan... ‘is it a Cadillac or a Ford?’ Tom responded by saying, ‘It’s more of a Chevy, with a V6, but not leather seats.’ Trovig also related that if and when a bond is approved, then bids will be publicly sought for various projects in the building - giving local contractors a chance to be a part of the project. He mentioned that, at this point, the preliminary plan has a cost per square foot of about $183. When asked about the possible main street (Central Avenue) location, Stacy Hennen responded by saying that she hoped that would mean extra business for downtown restaurants, gas stations, stores, and more. She said they sincerely hope that this will be a boost to the economy in many ways.
People wanted to ‘see a plan,’ but the commissioners noted that they didn’t want to put the ‘cart before the horse’ and wanted to follow the proper channels of approval before proceeding further. Stacy Hennen said that she has a preliminary drawing available at their office and would be very willing to show it to anyone who is interested.
After everyone had an opportunity to comment, the county board adjourned the meeting.