March 07, 2021

BIG MOVE, BIGGER OUTCOMES: Lower tax levy, debt-free county potential outcomes if $3.6M bond is secured for admin building reconstruction

Referendum to remodel former NewCare clinic to be held in March

Taxpayers have the final say in whether the county finances a $3.6 million reconstruction of a new administration building, which Jasper County Supervisors Chairman Doug Cupples says could lower the levy and free the governmental body of debt within six years.

By March 2, the county will hold a special election — approved by the board of supervisors Monday, Jan. 4 — for the $3.6 million bond referendum to pay for the extensive remodel of the former NewCare Health Services clinic, 315 W. Third St. N., in Newton.

The county purchased the NewCare building for nearly $620,000 in late 2019.

“So key takeaways: county wants to borrow $3.6 million, lower the levy and … all their debt will be paid off in six years — and we get a new building,” Cupples said. “A brand new, really efficient, well-built, beautiful building. And it’s going to be a one-stop shop.”

Employees from about 11 county departments will be moving to the new administration building if the vote passes with 60% in favor.

Designs from BBS Architects Engineers, the Des Moines-based firm helming the project, also include a 4,000-square-foot addition for the driver’s license/motor vehicle departments, which currently operates from the first floor of the Jasper County Courthouse.

Although the transition could be challenging for staff — labeled a top performer by the state in 2019 — Jasper County Treasurer Doug Bishop is excited for the potential opportunity “to make great improvements in efficiency and workflow,” and also address ADA issues.

“The senior citizens and those with disabilities would have a much easier time accessing their vital services in the new location,” Bishop said. “One hundred-year-old courthouses are beautiful, but they aren’t easily accessible.”

Presently, without any additions, the NewCare building has 12,000 square feet of usable, ground-level space.

Comparatively, the annex building has less available parking, less ADA access and a smaller lot size of 0.4 acres. The former NewCare facility is comprised of 1.8 acres and is expected to hold 70 parking spots — as opposed to the annex’s dozen or so — when reconstruction is complete.

Cupples does not expect any other county departments inside the courthouse will be moving to the administration building.

TRADING SPACES

If the project is successfully financed through the bond, many county workers would be moving from the deteriorating annex building, which has suffered from foundational problems and water damage — resulting in airborne mold spores — after decades of neglected upkeep.

Currently, the basement of the annex building is not being used due to water damage. Presence of mold — which Cupples said has been mitigated — even forced the Jasper County Public Health employees to relocate in December 2017 to a temporary, rented office space at 116 W. Fourth St. S. in Newton.

The annex building has been “a sore subject” for some time, Cupples said.

“We all want a positive situation to come out of the annex building,” he added. “It’s been in need way before I ever came in four years ago, way before probably the guy before me. It had been in need of upgrade and repair.”

To remodel or rehabilitate new offices in the three-floor, 7,000-square-foot-per-floor county annex building would be expensive. Cupples said it would cost approximately $200-$300 per square foot, according to information supervisors received from two different architects.

The county estimates repairs would ultimately cost $3.4 million-$4.6 million.

Maintaining the annex building has been costly, too. Energy efficiencies are poor, Cupples suggested. It’s expensive to heat and cool the building. The NewCare building is already equipped with spray foam insulation, but the county intends to install a geothermal system, similar to the courthouse.

“In the winter they were spending somewhere around $4,000 or $5,000 a month on heat in the courthouse. And then they went to $900 to $1,000 a year (after installing geothermal),” Cupples said. “Geothermal is worth its weight in gold.”

Solar panels will also be installed on the roof of the building, further reducing the county’s utility bills. Other amenities like LED lighting, a backup generator and a “recharging room” suggests the county wants to “get it right” now and not cut corners, Cupples said.

“We’re trying to be super efficient, super fiscally responsible and make sure we’re not going to cut corners and set somebody else up (for failure),” he added. “And I’m not talking ‘somebody else’ as in future supervisors — I’m talking about our citizens.”

COST BENEFITS

Last year, Jasper County had tried to find a buyer to redevelop the annex building, which was identified as an “endangered” property by Preservation Iowa. At one point, a development group signed a contract with the county to buy and historically rehabilitate the structure if it successfully secured a grant.

By the end of January, the contract will have expired. Cupples told Newton News those plans look to have fallen through, allowing the annex building to be up for sale once again.

Rather than pay for substantial repairs to the annex building, the county sees the most efficient and cost effective option is moving to a new office space entirely, paid for by the $3.6 million bond. Cupples said that would approximately equate to $225 per square foot.

“Which is pretty fair with the new addition being put on there,” he said. “Otherwise it was going to be $980 a square foot to remodel it.”

Jasper County has about $5.5 million in debt with roughly 1.8-1.9% interest.

The county’s “proposal is to borrow $3.6 million more and refinance that other debt,” Cupples said, noting the debt was scheduled to be paid off in about three years. Currently, the county’s tax levy is about $0.48 per thousand dollars of taxable value.

“Using 1.44% as our percentage rate, as our estimate, because this is going to be March before we lock it in … it lowers the levy to (approximately) $0.46. In six years, we’ll be debt free as a county — whoa!” Cupples said, adding that the interest rates could even go down as far as 0.5%. “I’m pretty excited.”

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or cbraunschweig@newtondailynews.com