GREENFIELD — Hancock County leaders plan to borrow almost $2 million to pay for upgrades to county buildings that have fallen into disrepair.
As the Hancock County Commissioners develop the county’s 2016 budget, they have identified nearly $2 million in immediate maintenance needs at the Hancock County Jail, prosecutor’s office and several other county-owned buildings. The price tag on those repairs, however, is beyond what local officials say they can afford using current county funds.
In response, the Hancock County Council has passed a resolution encouraging the commissioners to proceed with a bond initiative; the commissioners plan to begin the borrowing process in the coming weeks, despite some public urging to spend from the county’s reserve funds instead.
Bond money would help address the $1.9 million planned for repairs, commissioners said: An estimated $1.4 million would be spent at the jail, and $519,000 would be divided among other county buildings.
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These repairs are at the top of a long list of building maintenance the county has put on the back burner for some time, as well as security upgrades to the county courthouse, commissioner Brad Armstrong said.
“We (went) through the hard times between 2008 and 2012,” he said. “Now, we need to go back, reinvest and get caught up on maintenance issues.”
A tentative list of repairs includes:
•Fixes to the roof, plumbing, light fixtures, sprinkler heads, hand rails, holding cells and windows at the Hancock County Jail: $1.4 million
•Replacement of damaged ceiling tiles; analysis of and minor repairs to roof, window and wall leaks at the Hancock County Courthouse: $60,000
•Installation of alarms and metal detectors at the county courthouse, $28,000
•Lighting upgrades; repairs to the roof, ceiling tiles and entry door of the courthouse annex: $82,000
•Replacement of window seals |and brick; repairs to entry ramp, handrails, awning and loose slate shingles at the Hancock Count Prosecutor’s Office: $115,000
•Installation of a chairlift and fire alarm system; repairs to handrails and entry ramps; maintenance of boiler heat system at the Memorial Building: $150,000
•Repairs to parking lot pavement and roof; replacement of damaged ceiling tiles at Hancock County Community Corrections: $21,000
•Repairs to exterior window and leaks at the Hancock County Emergency Operations Center: $3,000
•Repairs to roof; installation of new furnace at the county highway department building: $40,000
•Replacement of roof; repair of water damage at the Purdue Extension Office: $20,000
It’s an extensive list, but county officials say the $2 million they plan to borrow is just a drop in the bucket.
Previous facilities studies have shown nearly $8 million in repairs would be needed to bring the county’s buildings up to par, Armstrong said.
Instead of seeking funding for all those projects at once, the commissioners have identified the priority repairs they say need to be completed in the next year.
“This will give us some sort of strategy to maintain these buildings, rather than just being reactive like we have been in the last few years,” Armstrong said.
The county council must conduct a public hearing on the loan before plans can be approved, county attorney Ray Richardson said.
Richardson is working to draft a resolution initiating the bond approval process, and the commissioners are expected to vote on the resolution at their next meeting.
The resolution is expected to state that the commissioners will seek a bond to cover capital improvements up to but not exceeding $2 million.
If the loan were to exceed $2 million, it would be subject to a public referendum.
The county’s debt has significantly decreased in recent years, county council member Kent Fisk said, making this an ideal time for the county to catch up on maintenance.
“It’s inconceivable to think that we can operate and maintain these assets without having to carry some sort of debt,” Fisk said at a recent council meeting. “I think this (bond) is reasonable and needed.”
The bond already has been met with some resistance, particularly from members of the public who believe the commissioners should look to their reserve funds to pay for the repairs before considering a loan.
Greenfield resident John Priore is among those opposed to the plan and spoke against it at this week’s county commissioners meeting. He said he believes a bond would be unfair because property tax caps mean some county residents, having met their tax cap, do not pay into the bond.
Under property tax rules, homes cannot be taxed more than 1 percent of their gross assessed value. This means a $100,000 home cannot have a tax bill greater than $1,000.
“A whole bunch of people aren’t paying their fair share; the Indiana tax laws are really unfair,” Priore said.
Commissioner Tom Stevens spoke up, however, to say he believes the majority of county residents understand the need for taking out a loan when the situation calls for it.
“If they want to buy a car or a house, they borrow money,” Stevens said. “That’s a tool the public is used to. We represent those same people. Should we do it any different? I think not.”
Hancock County Jail: $1,480,000.00
Hancock County Courthouse: $88,000
Hancock County Courthouse Annex: $82,000
Hancock County Prosecutor’s Office: $115,000
Memorial Building: $150,000
Hancock County Community Corrections: $21,000
Hancock County Emergency Operations Center: $3,000
Hancock County Highway Department: $40,000
Hancock County Purdue Extension: $20,000