By LeAnn R. Ralph
MENOMONIE — Considering the current state of its finances, Dunn County could easily borrow another $17 million for remodeling the old health care center and the government center and to purchase a new finance system.
The Dunn County Board held a special meeting May 1 to review plans for remodeling the old health care center for county offices and to review the county’s financial status.
Joseph Murray, a financial advisor with Springsted, said that Dunn County currently has very little debt and levies $1.8 million in taxes on $7 million of debt.
Dunn County will pay off the debt for the judicial center in 2016, Murray noted.
State law allows Dunn County to borrow up to 5 percent of its equalized value, which would amount to $100 million.
“You could do $100 million dollars in debt, although I am not suggesting that you should,” Murray said.
Remodeling the old health care center for about 60,000 square feet of finished space would cost $12 million; remodeling the Government Center on Wilson Avenue would cost $2 million; and purchasing a new finance system would cost $3 million.
Dunn County borrowed $23 million last year to build the new health care center, although the new facility is expected to generate enough revenue to pay off the debt without adding to the tax levy.
Dunn County has a credit rating of “double A minus,” Murray said, adding that the better the rating from Standard and Poor’s, the lower the interest rate.
Refinancing existing debt and adding $17 million of new debt would add about $11 or $12 per year to the property taxes per $100,000 of property value, Murray said.
Dunn County taxpayers currently pay about $70 per $100,000 of property value for county debt; refinancing and adding $17 million in new debt would boost the property tax payments to about $81 per year per $100,000, he said.
Remodeling the old health care center would provide new offices for “people services.”
The current preliminary plans include remodeling the lower level and main level and gutting the third level and leaving it as unused space.
According to the preliminary plans, the lower level would house public works; family planning; the Women, Infants and Children (W.I.C.) program; as well as central storage and a break room area for all of the offices in the building.
The main level would house offices for aging and disability; human services; economic support; family and children; behavior health; home health; veterans’ services; and UW Extension.
Remodeling the old Dunn County Health Care Center “is not a proposal that simply popped out of the blue. It has been reviewed and developed over the past six years,” said Gene Smith, county manager.
Heating and cooling for the old health care center building would be linked to the geo-thermal system for the new health care center next door, the Neighbors of Dunn County.
Preliminary plans for the old health care center building include using existing walls as well as removing existing walls and building new spaces.
New construction would cost over $100 per square foot; remodeling the old health care center will cost about $87 per square foot, Smith said.
Steve Rasmussen, county board supervisor from Boyceville and chair of the Dunn County Board, spent about 30 minutes at the start of the meeting outlining how the county arrived at building a new health care center and remodeling the old building.
When asked for a show of hands, only about half of the existing county board supervisors served on the county board prior to 2007.
“It’s a long road we’ve been on,” Rasmussen said.
The “road” started in late 2006 when a committee recommended a space needs study.
The study indicated that most county offices need more room and that travel time for county employees to go between offices spread out around Menomonie is not an efficient way to conduct business, Rasmussen said.
The space needs study conducted by Ayres Associates did not include the Dunn County Health Care Center, he noted.
A second study of the health care center in 2006 by a company called Pathways indicated that the building would not be up to code for new sprinkler system and smoke detector regulations and that the old “spoke and hub” design was too institutional and not home-like enough. The shared bathrooms also were too small for two people to safely do a transfer lift of residents.
In September of 2008, Hoffman LLC and Architectural Design Group surveyed county staff, analyzed the space needs studies and then developed five options.
Along the way, Dunn County considered a residential neighborhood “Greenhouse” model for the health care center and then determined that it was too expensive, Rasmussen said.
Eventually the current design was approved that includes a skilled nursing unit and three neighborhoods of less than 20 people each, he said.
Building a new health care center resulted in the old health care center becoming available to address the space needs identified for county offices, Rasmussen said.
Residents are expected to move into the new health care center in August.
Dunn County’s Ad Hoc Space Needs Committee will decide on the design for remodeling the old health care center if the county board approves the funding.
The Ad Hoc Space Needs Committee is made up of county board members, including those who serve on the facilities committee and the executive committee.
The Dunn County Board is expected to consider funding for remodeling the old health care center at the regular monthly meeting May 15.