Courthouse Additions: Joint Meeting Commissioners and Council Mar 24, 2023, 6:00 – 8:00 pm

Updated Mar 27, 2023

Joint Meeting Commissioners and Council Mar 24, 2023 6:00 – 8:00 p.m.

This post at Brown County Matters

Purpose: Funding – Courthouse additions.

Good Meeting. An informative, productive, congenial, and at times humorous, meeting.  A wide variety of options and their pros and cons were discussed. (I wish this was more the norm on major investments like wastewater management/sewer expansions.)

Good Argument. Judge Wertz, the Sheriff, and the Baliff have made a good case for the additions with the priority for funding to be the Sally Port.  The Judge got a grant to fund the design/plan (70K). She has gotten other grants to fund the renovations.

Planning. The meeting reinforced the critical need for capital improvement planning and budgeting. This consists of identifying our assets (buildings) and the projected repair, replacement, and maintenance costs. Purpose is to prevent “surprise expenses” and budget the costs

Jim Kemp who has a finance background is also leading needed process improvements and longer-term planning that should help prevent future “fires.”   I am looking forward to the 2024 budget hearings that should reflect “lessons being learned.”

Courthouse Additions – Sally Port and Security Entrance.  Commissions may have the money to fund the project without the need for the council to approve.  In addition to the 500k that was budgeted, 254K can be used from the remaining balance in the capital improvement loan. Funds from the capital improvement loan may have been erroneously used to pay operating expenses associated with the ambulance contracts and may need to be reimbursed from other funds (300K or more).  If excess funds from existing accounts cannot be found, the commissioners will take out a loan.  The State Board of Accounts is providing a review of the capital improvement loan and expenditures.

Capital Improvement vs Operating Costs.

    • The council was aware that the commissioners were paying operating expenses with funds from the 3 million capital improvement loan. I questioned this practice and the former commissioners stated it was allowed. The county attorney was likely present on the phone.
    • Note the common practice at the time of the loan was for the commissioners to identify spending and the council operated under the principle that their job was to “approve” without question.  Consequently, any issues and lack of knowledge of the “total costs” in many cases led to “surprises.”

Courthouse Options. Everyone agreed the additions were needed. Previous major additions to the courthouse were rejected by the public via a remonstrance. The plan for a new “Justice Center” at 8-10 million was not well received.  Grant money was used to make some recent renovations and these new additions should meet the county’s needs in the foreseeable future.

Next Meeting. There will be a working meeting next Friday at 1:00 to work through the exact details and options regarding courthouse project funding. Council members, commissioners, the auditor, consultant from Baker-Tilly, and any interested members of the public.  A plan for how the county may be able to address the 1.3 million or more deficit in health benefits costs will also be discussed.

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