County commission still considering building proposal

7/2/2013

By SCOTT AUST

By SCOTT AUST

saust@gctelegram.com

Voters may get to decide next year whether to use sales tax to pay for a new building designed to locate four court-related services agencies near one another.

On Monday, the Finney County Commission again discussed building options with Youth Services, Community Corrections, District Court-Court Services and the Juvenile Detention Center.

The agencies proposed in April to build a new facility next to the JDC for Youth Services, Community Corrections and Court Services, but two weeks ago told the commission they were also considering buying or renting used buildings.

The four agencies are located in offices across the community. Community Corrections and Youth Services lease office space at 601 N. Main St. and 2701 N. 11th St., and both leases, paid for by the Kansas Department of Corrections and Juvenile Justice Authority, respectively, are set to expire next summer. Court services is located at 405 N. Eighth St., and JDC is at 507 W. Santa Fe St., both owned and maintained by the county.

The goal of the building project is to eliminate areas of overlap, duplication or repetition of services.

Randy Partington, county administrator, said little has changed since the last commission meeting. The commission needs to decide whether it wants to spend money on a new building, renovate an older building or do nothing and let the agencies continue their current lease arrangements.

"The one thought you might want to give to the Commerce Bank building is whether that is the right location for people who are in corrections. It's the most visible building in the downtown area," Partington said.

The Commerce Bank building on Main Street was one of the existing buildings discussed two weeks ago. It has adequate space, but would likely require some remodeling and renovation to make it ADA accessible.

Agency directors indicated being under one roof will provide benefits such as sharing resources and improving efficiency.

"If we're all together in one location we can play off each other's strengths. Then we have less people going out into the community untreated ... because we're all right there," Katrina Pollet, Juvenile Detention Center director, said.

Pollet said being spread out means increased time for driving back and forth between locations, which is inefficient. By being located near each other, the agencies could share some programming and strengths and make the community safer, she said.

Pollet feels strongly about building a new facility next to the JDC.

"Having all the offenders in the county report to the Commerce Bank building, I just don't think there's going to be a lot of support for that," she said. "I just think having (offenders) all in one location where we can work on a treatment program is very important for this community."

Jim Perkins, Youth Services director, said having everyone under the same roof provides a better chance for all the organizations to strategize in a climate of state budget cuts and limited resources. "Having the opportunity to sit down and bounce ideas off each other and plan is a real plus to relocating down at the JDC. I realize there are budget concerns. The cost of building is not insubstantial, but I think the benefits in the long run point toward that as a long-term solution."

Initially, the groups estimated a new, 18,000-square-foot building might cost around $2 million. After an architectural study came back with a $4.36 million price tag, the agencies looked to scale back and came up with a 21,895-square-foot version for an estimated $3.57 million.

Commissioners raised the possibility of a ballot issue next year asking the public to pay for the project using sales tax.

Commissioner Dave Jones said he is supportive of the project's concept, and would be willing to consider a funding option that uses revenue other than property taxes. Jones said instead of studying it to death, the commission should start moving toward a goal.

"If the goal is to see if there's a way to build a facility down by the Juvenile Detention facility ... we need to start exploring that before very long," he said. "If it's to buy something, we need to have that discussion. I'm pretty reluctant to be buying old buildings, myself, and I'm real reluctant to buy high-priced bank buildings. I'd err on the side of trying to build something new, but we've gotta make it affordable."

Partington said he will work with the county's bond counsel on preparing a resolution for the county commission to consider next year that would put the issue on the ballot. The next scheduled election in the county is an August 2014 primary.

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