By LeAnn R. Ralph
MENOMONIE — County offices now located in the Dunn County Government Center on Wilson Avenue will be moving to the Community Services Building on state Highway 12/29.
The Dunn County Board, on a vote of 27 in favor and one against, approved moving out of the Government Center at the July 25 meeting.
According to information provided to the county board by Paul Miller, county manager, keeping county offices in the Government Center would require $3.8 million in repairs for upgrading the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), for replacing the elevator to make it Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant and for replacing the roof.
Finishing off the space available for county offices in the Community Services Building — the former Dunn County Health Care Center — is expected to cost $3.7 million.
Dunn County spent approximately $11 million five years ago to remodel the old health care center to accommodate some of the county’s offices.
The cost of custodial services and utilities for the additional office space in the Community Services Building is expected to cost $87,000 per year, but the current cost of utilities, maintenance and custodial services in the Government Center is $274,000 per year, representing a savings of $187,000.
The City of Menomonie offices occupy the third floor of the Government Center, and the city pays $125,000 per year in rent.
The savings on utilities and custodial services at the Community Services Building combined with the loss of revenue from the City of Menomonie is still expected to result in a net gain of $62,000.
Dunn County is planning to sell the Government Center.
The estimated market value of the Government Center is $660,000, and the money from the sale of the building will be applied to building the new offices in the Community Services Building.
The idea of moving all of the county offices to the Community Services Building has “been in the works” since the Neighbors of Dunn County was built, said Charles Maves, county board supervisor from Boyceville and chair of the county board’s facilities committee.
As time went on, the cost of repairs for the Government Center became more expensive, so the facilities committee discussed moving and “put the numbers together,” Maves said.
“We will spend at least $3 million, no matter what we do,” he said.
The question then becomes, “Where does the taxpayer get the most benefit?” Maves said.
The facilities committee unanimously agreed the best use of the money is to relocate, he said.
“I strongly support this,” Maves said.
Larry Bjork, county board supervisor from Menomonie, said he was not in favor of moving.
The cornerstone for the Government Center has the year 1959. A plaque at the main entrance to the building lists the Dunn County Board members when the building was constructed, Bjork said.
“What would they think (that the county board) has no where-with-all to make improvements to preserve this building?” he said, noting that he had known many of the people on the list.
The Government Center architecture was state-of-the-art and built with marble walls and windows that light the lower level, Bjork said.
What is called the Government Center now was known as the courthouse at the time it was built.
Not supporting the county board members who upgraded from the old facility where the bandshell is now is “sad,” Bjork said.
Dunn County cannot pay for the roof, the elevator, and the electrical upgrades but the county can pay for remodeling more of the old health care center, he said.
“I think we should stay here,” Bjork said.
Elton Christopherson, county board supervisor from Elk Mound, said he remembers the old courthouse building and said the county could have bought houses in the area and expanded at the original site.
The figures put together for either staying in the Government Center or moving to the Community Services Building, however, cannot calculate the cost of transportation between the two buildings, he said.
Some county employees must travel between downtown and the Community Services Building, and if the traffic lights are red along the way, the journey can take as long as 20 minutes, Christopherson said.
“I think we crossed the bridge quite a few years ago, and we should keep driving down the road,” he said.
The process of moving started when Dunn County built the Judicial Center, Christopherson said.
Kitz Cleary, county board supervisor from Menomonie, said it seemed to her the proposal to move the county offices out of the Government Center was being “thrust forward in great haste.”
The facilities committee received the information in May. The information was brought to the Dunn County Board in June, and now the county board is expected to make a decision in July, Cleary said.
Cleary noted she represents constituents in Menomonie, and the impact on the downtown area by the county moving out “may be profound, but we have not heard from the constituents in the city.”
The progress from the Dunn County Health Care Center to the Neighbors of Dunn County was “a slow and deliberate process,” she said.
Cleary said she would like to see the county board gather public comments on the idea, “slow down a trifle and hold a public hearing.”
Mary Solberg, county board supervisor from Menomonie, said she agreed with Cleary that the idea to move had “come up fast.”
Solberg also said if the county knew the Government Center needed work on the HVAC, the roof and other maintenance, why was the work not a priority of past repairs?
David Bartlett, county board supervisor from Boyceville and chair of the Dunn County Board, noted that he and Solberg had served on the facilities committee together.
Maintenance on the Government Center was deferred because the committee did not want to borrow more money. Previous tight budgets also ended up deferring the maintenance in favor of other projects that were more pressing, he said.
“We’ve just been kicking that down the road,” Bartlett said.
James Tripp, county board supervisor from Menomonie, said he had talked to Menomonie City Council members and had attended the last city council meeting.
Moving the county offices out of the Government Center would be a good move for the county, but Tripp said he did not want to leave the city with the building’s problems.
City council members and city officials “were not hesitant” about being left in the building, and “it did not seem to bother them,” he said.
Diane Morehouse, county board supervisor from Menomonie, also had talked to city officials and had attended the city council meeting.
Morehouse said she initially had shared Cleary’s concerns, but she did not hear any concerns from the city council about the county moving.
Morehouse said she was “completely persuaded” by the energy savings from the geo-thermal system at the Community Services Building.
Carl Vandermeulen, county board supervisor from Menomonie, asked if the county employees who work at the Government Center had been asked about moving.
Tom Quinn, county board supervisor from Downing, said the department heads had been asked.
Although the survey was only for one week, on-line business outweighed walk-in traffic at the Government Center offices, he said.
The staff agreed moving would not have a negative impact on their ability to do business, Quinn said.
Solberg said her previous comments had been made as a county board supervisor, but as a member of the Menomonie City Council, she can see benefits for the city if the county moves, and the city council agreed unanimously.
On a voice vote, the Dunn County Board approved relocating the offices at the Government Center to the Community Services Building, to sell the Government Center and to apply the money to relocation costs.
Larry Bjork was the only county board supervisor not in favor of the motion.
In other business, the Dunn County Board:
• Approved increasing the fees for the Dunn County Sheriff’s Department to serve a summons, injunction or subpoena from $35 to $45 plus travel reimbursement at the current IRS rate and from $35 to $45 plus travel reimbursement for a judgment demanding payment. If the attendance of a sheriff’s deputy is required other than for service, there will be a fee of $55 for each hour or any part of an hour.
• Approved authorizing the Clerk of Courts to enter into a contract with the Wisconsin Department of Revenue for the collection of debt.
• Approved adding an environmental services director and a senior planner position. Environmental services has four divisions (land and water conservation; planning and land use control; solid waste and recycling; and surveying). Environmental services was the only department without a director or department head, and management of the department was by “committee” of the four division heads. Two positions currently open will not be filled and a secretary’s position will be reduced to half time to pay for the director position. The director also will fill the senior planner position.
• Approved an easement for the City of Menomonie to install a “gateway sign” on property owned by Dunn County east of the highway shop.
• Approved budget adjustments of $54,600, $134,850 and $44,950 for solid waste and recycling to purchase machinery and equipment. Gary Bjork, county board supervisor from Colfax and chair of the solid waste and recycling committee, noted the actual cost of the equipment will be about $70,000 less than the budget adjustments listed on the resolution.