By: Benjamin J. Gohs, News Editor
The $1.445 million building project to be shared by Charlevoix County transit, sheriff and road commission is moving forward.
During a special joint board meeting on Feb. 6, Charlevoix County Commissioners voted 4-2 to build and retain ownership of a Beaver Island mixed-use garage and office facility; they then voted 4-2 to accept project plans created by Northwest Design Group.
“It looks like the best way is to build one building for the three entities,” said Charlevoix County Commissioner and Board Chairman Joel Evans (R-District 4). “We want our needs met. We don’t want more than that.”
He added, “When the public asks me: ‘Joel, why did they build such a big building on Beaver Island?’ I want to be able to honestly say that’s what the transit needed. That’s what the road commission needed. It wasn’t elaborate, it wasn’t something more.”
Howard Haselschwardt and Amanda Porath of Northwest Design Group, the firm working on preliminary engineering plans for the proposed multi-use garage and office facility,
According to Haselschwardt, the project is aimed at fulfilling only the current levels of need. He also reported back to commissioners who had asked for a price to build a separate sheriff facility.
“The conclusions are that a separate sheriff’s office or garage to house their needed functions pursuant to State of Michigan Department of Corrections requirements is about $439,000—the sheriff’s portion of the shared garage is about $355,000, so there’s a difference there of about $84,000,” he said. “What I’ve kind of stuck in my head that might be useful for you might be to say they’re using about 30 percent of the space.”
The entire main building, as is currently proposed, would be heated. The salt storage building would not be heated.
While the sheriff’s portion of the building would be approximately 30 percent of the space, it would be nearly 45 percent of the cost to build it.
“So, at $439,000 … if I build three of those buildings I’m at $1.3 million and I’m at 9,300-square-feet. But, yet, you’re quoting me a building for 8,500-square-feet for $1.445 million,” said Charlevoix County Commissioner Chris Christensen (R-District 2). “I could buy three of these for less than the quote for the one building that you’ve proposed.”
Haselschwardt said there are some big differences between the types of buildings. The sheriff’s office would include indoor office space and standard height garage space while the transit and road commission portions of the building will necessitate a storage yard, much taller garage bays and a salt storage building to name a few.
The budget for the shared garage facility also includes fuel storage removal and replacement for nearly $73,000.
“And, all of these numbers, even the $1.445 million, still doesn’t figure in the cost of land because you don’t have a piece of property right now,” Christensen said. “So, it’s still going to be greater than $1.445 million.”
Haselschwardt said it is too early to tell whether the final cost will go over $1.445 million because there is nearly $147,000 in contingency costs built into the project.
Charlevoix County Road Commission Manager Pat Harmon said he has had many people complain to him that the proposed building is “way too big.”
“I’m here to tell you that there is no fluff in this building for the road commission—absolutely none,” he said. “The spaces that’s marked on that diagram is what we need today to house the equipment that we have.”
Harmon said there is no road grader on the island but he hopes to get one placed there by 2014, and he will need space to house it.
Harmon said the current building is not tall enough to open the hoods on the trucks all the way and numerous pieces of equipment are currently sitting outside the building and taking punishment from the elements.
“We can’t … send out a quarter-of-a-million-dollar grader to the island in 2014 and leave it set outdoors. It’s a huge mistake,” he said.
Charlevoix County Transit Manager Jill Drury said the facility is a matter of risk management. Without enough room to properly work on the equipment, the trucks and buses often must wait for a mechanic in good weather or must be hauled back to the mainland for repair.
“We know that capital money to replace vehicles is drying up quickly,” Drury said.
The transit’s portion of the building would account for two indoor parking spaces for transit vehicles and office space.
Charlevoix County Sheriff W. Don Schneider said the needs he has expressed are “bare bones.”
“We’re not asking for the Taj Mahal,” Schneider said. “We haven’t even built anything in for growth—these are just our basic needs.”
The sheriff’s office proposed space will include two jail holding cells for male and female detainees, parking space and storage for boats and other equipment.
Evans asked how maintenance would be handled on the proposed building.
Harmon said minor issues like light bulbs and lawn care will be handled by road commission staff.
Charlevoix County Commissioner Ron Reinhardt (R-District 3) said if a sheriff’s car or transit bus breaks down during the winter months, there is no bringing it back to the mainland for maintenance.
According to Drury, the transportation costs are nearly $300 to take a transit vehicle to the mainland and back for maintenance.
Harmon said he would like to see the building’s ownership be under joint ownership between the county and the road commission but his request was not shared by any of the county commissioners.
“From my perspective I think Charlevoix County should own it and lease it out,” Evans said.
It was determined during the meeting that, if the county owned the building and insured it it would cost $2,000 per year; if the road commission owned a portion of the building and insured that it would cost $3,000.
Charlevoix County Commissioner Larry Sullivan (R-District 6) broached the idea of allowing the road commission to make payments toward eventual ownership of some percentage of the building.
“I think we’d all like to have somebody else buy us a building—be it a home or a garage or a storage building or whatever—my concern is that, if the road commission has no financial investment in it, should there be an ownership interest?” Sullivan said. “If the county is paying 100 percent I think the county should own the building.”
According to the county board’s legal counsel Bryan Graham, the sheriff’s office and transit are both departments of the county. The Charlevoix County Road Commission is the only entity that is legally separate.
“The first thing that needs to be discussed and decided is who’s going to own the land and who’s going to own the building,” Graham said. “And, once we decide that that will then resolve a number of different issues that will kind of help the dominoes fall.”
He added, “But, right now, we’re all talking about a building—and I’ve been here for six months now and I’ve heard lots of discussions about the building—but I’ve never heard anyone discuss the nuts and bolts of the legal framework.”
Graham said if the county owns the building then the road commission will be a tenant. If the road commission owns the building then the transit and sheriff’s office will be tenants.
It must also be decided who will identify available land sites. Then, discussions over which piece of property would be ideal must be had.
“Those decisions need to be made or we’re going to sit here and talk about this project over and over without getting anywhere,” Graham said.
Evans said he felt the county should own the building and lease a portion to the road commission.
Reinhardt agreed with Evans but said he was concerned with how each entity would insure itself.
The road commission is self-insured through a co-op of other road commissions throughout the state. Officials said the road commission’s portion of the building could only be insured if the road commission was given an interest in the building.
“I would like to know who’s putting skin in the game before we decide who’s insuring what,” Christensen said. “I’d like to hear from any of these entities if they have any intention of contributing on the construction of this building.”
Christensen said he isn’t arguing the need of the building, but how much of the price tag would be picked up by each of the three entities.
“Is the road commission going to be able to pay for their portion of the building?” Christensen said.
Harmon, in an interview in the days following the meeting, said the road commission would not be able to afford much, if anything, in the way of monthly rent or lease payments.
Harmon estimated the road commission’s portion of the building between $700,000 and $800,000.
“It would be real tough for us to do that because of our finances,” Harmon said. “It would have to be some kind of a sweetheart deal or things will stay the status quo: my equipment will continue to be stored outside and we’ll get by the best way we can.”
Harmon said the road commission has been willing to pay for the engineering and design and is willing, once the new building is built, to sell the prior Beaver Island facility and put those proceeds toward the cost.
“We don’t have extra money to pay for our portion,” Harmon said. “If we’re looking at $700,000 we’ve gotta come up with then we might as well end talks today and everybody go home—it’s not going to happen.”
Harmon said that, before the housing crisis of 2008, the road commission had four plots of land on Beaver Island estimated to be worth approximately $20,000 each. Harmon said once the new facility is built he will sell those and give the proceeds to Charlevoix County as a partial payment on the road commission’s portion of the building.
Charlevoix County Commissioner George T. Lasater asked whether it would be realistic to approach Peaine and St. James townships to see if they would be willing to provide a portion of the funding for the proposed project.
“We need to do this—whether it’s exactly the plan that Northwest drew or not,” said Charlevoix County Commissioner Richard Gillespie (R-District 5). “We have the sixth largest SEV (state equalized value) in the county; we have the most roads by 30 miles of any township, by combining the two … we have a lot of roads to maintain, mostly dirt.”
Gillespie said that, regardless whether the three entities in question can afford to pay for a portion of the building, the project must be undertaken.
Christensen cautioned the board about a neighboring county that spent a million dollars on its park system then laid off a half-dozen employees the following year.
Christensen addressed the idea by some that the $2 million that the county lent to the Boyne City-Charlevoix Road project could be used to pay for the island garage once the money is repaid.
“The people said they wanted money spent on that road to get it repaired,” Christensen said. “That $2 million is spent and until that $2 million is paid, whatever fund we’re referencing here is still $2 million less than where it was a year ago.”
Gillespie said previous projects—like the Charlevoix County Jail addition—were undertaken with a vote of the commission and not a vote of the people.
“The county new up front we didn’t have the money to do this project,” Harmon said.
Reinhardt said the county did not put the $2 million loan to the Boyne City-Charlevoix Road project to a vote of the people.
Lasater said nearly 30 people had approached him on the issue stating that a storage building was necessary but that the cost was too high.
Gillespie said he would like to see the matter sent to the Charlevoix County Building & Grounds Committee to be dealt with.
“As far as kicking this to building and grounds I disagree wholeheartedly,” Christensen said. “This needs to be a whole board—this is a $1.5 million we’re talking about—to put it to a sub-committee so that we can come up and vote on a recommendation over a million-and-a-half-dollars is foolish.”
Gillespie said he had no intention of the building and grounds committee making future final decisions on the matter.
Reinhardt made a motion that a facility be built and the county would own it.
Christensen and Sullivan voted “no” on the project which was approved 4-2.
Sullivan said he was not against the idea of the building, but wanted a better idea of how it would be funded.
“I think we need to work out the lease documents and the least agreement … prior to going ahead with this,” Sullivan said.
A vote was then held on whether commissioners supported the plans designed by Northwest Design Group—subject to further review and any necessary corrections.
Christensen and Lasater voted “no” on the second vote which passed 4-2.
During an interview following the meeting, Christensen said he is unaware of any board direction to the road commission regarding engineering on the proposed Beaver Island garage/office facility.
“I have concerns about how the process moved along from failed grant application to reality in nine months,” Christensen said. “We weren’t even given a price until January and in February we voted on it—no quotes, no second opinions.”