Commissioners Get Estimates on Consolidation Project

By MATT GETTS mgetts@kpcmedia.com  Published Jun 25, 2019 in the Kendallville News-Sun

ALBION — The Noble County Commissioners got a look at preliminary cost estimates for their possible building consolidation plans during their regularly scheduled meeting Monday.

The county currently operates in seven buildings that the county owns and two buildings that are leased. To make county government more convenient for all those who have business with the county, the commissioners requested the space study to attempt to consolidate its operations under two roofs.

The options presented by DLZ Indiana LLC ranged from a potential low of $12.1 million to a potential high of $28.4 million.

The commissioners said they would study the materials presented.

"It's a heavy responsibility and we want to do it right," Commissioner Anita Hess said.

At the commissioners meeting May 28, Jason Semler of financial consultant Baker Tilley Municipal Advisors, formerly H.J. Umbaugh and Associates, delivered a presentation to commissioners and Noble County Highway Department Engineer Zack Smith outlining the different types of government bonds, different thresholds that would give residents a chance to object to a tax-funded project and borrowing limits and how they would affect the county tax rate.

While the county could potentially take out $5 million in loans without changing its current tax rate, doing a full-size project would cause the county’s tax rate to increase around 8-10 percent.

Semler then explained two different thresholds that would allow property owners to potentially contest a tax bond-funded project.

The first of those starts at $5 million and opens a project to a petition and remonstrance process. For that process to start, 500 residents would need to sign a petition after the notice to borrow was advertised to the community. If enacted, the pro and con sides then engage in a petition drive to see who gets more signatures. If the pro side gets more, the project can proceed, but if the con side gets more, the project has to be shelved for at least a year before the government can try again.

The second threshold is at $15 million, which makes a project eligible for a referendum. If petitioned for by residents, or often if initiated by the government undertaking the project, a public question would be put on a primary or general election ballot, asking residents for permission to borrow for the project. Since it would be a county project, all county voters would be eligible to cast a ballot in the referendum.

The commissioners paid DLZ to update a 2014 space study regarding a potential consolidation of all county offices under two roofs. That study suggest five options.

The new report discussed Monday gave the commissioners five more options, labeled 6-10, for consideration:

• Option 6: Construction of a new public service building and reallocating spaces and renovation to the courthouse to accommodate an addition court and relocation of the prosecutor's office and public defender's office. The existing South Complex would be vacated. The prosecutor's building would be demolished. The existing public defender building would be vacated. The court services and Weber Road buildings would be eliminated. Preliminary cost estimates for this proposal range from $12.1-$14.9 million.

• Option 7: Construction of a new judicial center. This option would reallocate spaces and perform minor renovation to the courthouse. The existing South Complex would be vacated. The prosecutor's building would be demolished. The existing public defender building would be vacated. The court services and Weber Road buildings would be eliminated. Preliminary cost estimates for this proposal range from $19.9-$24.8 million.

• Option 8: Construction of an addition to the existing courthouse. This option would include renovation to the courthouse. The existing South Complex building would be vacated. The use of the court services and Weber Road buildings would be eliminated. Preliminary cost estimates for this proposal range from $23-$28.4 million.

• Option 9: Renovate the existing courthouse. The existing South Complex, court services and Weber Road buildings would remain. Preliminary cost estimates for this proposal range from $10.4-$14.6 million.

• Option 10: Construction of a new vehicle storage garage for the surveyor's office. Preliminary cost estimates for this proposal range from $2.2-$2.3 million.

"It clarifies a lot of things," Commissioner Gary Leatherman said of the report provided by DLZ.

"I think this will provide a lot of the information we need to make those decisions," Smith said.

If the project were subject to a referendum — a threshold that would be triggered if the project exceeds approximately $16 million in 2020 — it would not be possible to meet the deadline for having new bonds set to go when the current bonds on the new highway department building expire in January 2021.

"It would destroy the schedule," Smith said.

The commissioners also heard from a citizen who complained about the treatment he received an April meeting of the Noble County Plan Commission.

Marvin Rodenback, who owns property along S.R. 3, south of Avilla, had lights installed by Indiana and Michigan Power for a parking area. Rodenback leases the lights from I&M.

He has been squabbling with the plan commission for months regarding whether the lights meet the county's unified development ordinance standards.

At the April plan commission meeting, Rodenback said he was treated poorly, specifically by Noble County Plan Director Kenneth Hughes and plan commission member George Bennett, who is also a county councilman.

"You shouldn't have to go into a hostile environment," Rodenback said.

Rodenback said he intends to file a tort regarding the lights issue, the first step in taking the county to court.

Rodenback also said he wants the commissioners to get a ruling from the Indiana Attorney General's Office regarding whether it is legal for Hughes to be the county's plan director and hold the elected office of Swan Township trustee.

The commissioners took no formal action regarding Rodenback's complaints.

The commissioners approved a trio of traffic-related ordinances which will take effect as soon as signage is erected:

• The speed limit was lowered to 45 mph on C.R. 400N from the Albion town limit to C.R. 150E.

• Stop signs will be placed at the intersection of West Noble Street and Main Street in Wolf Lake, creating a four-way stop.

• Stop signs will be placed for north and southbound traffic on C.R. 350N at Noble Hawk Drive where it intersects with the S.R. 3 approach.