First Public Meeting Held on County Building Consolidation
By Charles James
When you anticipate controversy and then it doesn’t happen, you’re not sure whether to be happy or sad or even whether it’s good or bad.
At this first public meeting on the County building consolidation project held in the Board of Supervisors’ Board Room in Independence, there appeared to be little opposition to the project and judging by the small public attendance, the idea of placing county services in Bishop into a new county-owned building at the north end of town may not have the detractors many in favor of project feared.
The most recent unofficial public poll taken by a local newspaper appears to favor the new county building. Polls notwithstanding, according to County Administrative Officer Kevin Carunchio, the county understands just how important transparency is on gaining the public’s trust and support. So far it appears to be working.
No opposition was voiced to the project from either the public or from any of the county supervisors. Sentiment in the room appeared to range from acceptance to optimism after viewing the very thorough 56-slide presentation given by Deputy Public Works Director Jim Tatum.
Linda Arcularius, 1st District Supervisor and current Board President, started the meeting by stating that the building design has yet to be determined; that the decision to move forward has yet to be put to a board vote, and that if it happens and approved, it will be based only on a building that meets the needs of the county departments already providing services in the Bishop area. These points would be repeatedly stressed during the meeting.
The discussion on a county facility in Bishop has been discussed for at least 20 years, according to CAO Carunchio. The last plan from 1998 to 2005 for a “northern campus” which ranged in size from 42,000-45,000 square feet of office space was estimated at $14.7 million using traditional debt financing, but it simply never went anywhere. Interestingly, the projected cost for a new consolidated building today are approximately the same as the one eight years earlier.
Why has this idea of a new county building in Bishop resurfaced? Something took place that forced the county to take another serious look at the idea. It was all about money. “In 2007-2008”, said Carunchio, “there was a building crisis developing in Bishop from increased rentals of privately-owned building in which the square foot costs were raising concerns. We could not afford it.”
Some county offices were relocated back to Independence and six offices in Bishop were moved to new locations, saving the county $120,000 a year in rent. The Board then voted to look for better, longer-term
solutions, which led to the current proposal. “The number one goal is to save money on rent and to be able to use that “saved” money to continue to provide vital county services into the future,” said current 2nd District Supervisor Jeff Griffiths.
Tatum stressed that the time to act is now as, with an improving economy there will be higher rental costs, higher costs for building materials, and likely higher financing rates. CAO Carunchio stressed that, “Given the significant savings over the long term and the ability to provide “one-stop” county services in a single, accessible location that is designed specifically to meet the needs of the public and the public employees that serve them, simply makes good sense.”
It was noted several times that the 2011-2012 Grand Jury, which was asked to looking into the consolidation project, recommended that the county pursue it.
Public comment was supportive. Rich White of Independence said that he has always felt that “having county services spread all over Bishop was ridiculous”. Recalling his service 15 years ago as the County Assessor, he said that the South Street county building was inadequate then− and ”It surely is no better now!” The Administrator had proposed possibly excluding Public Health from the new building and leaving it in the dilapidated South Street facility.
Questions were asked about building security and about the safety of the public while inside the building being exposed to others that might present potential health or safety risks. A question about how confidentiality issues would be handled was also presented. For example, “Is it physically safe for the public to be in the same building with those on county probation, particularly serious offenders?” and “Is it safe for individuals with infectious or communicable diseases or mental illness to be treated at the health clinic planned to be housed in same building without posing a health or safety risk to others?”
Fourth District Supervisor Mark Tillemans asked Tatum whether or not the county had looked at how other counties handle similar security issues. Tatum responded that they have not, but that issues regarding public health, safety, and confidentiality have all been high on the list brought to meetings by department heads and that they are addressing them. Health and Human Services Director Jean Turner added that they are speaking to their counterparts in other counties that have consolidated services in the same building and she feels that it can be worked out.
Other questions were asked about adequate storage. It was noted that many departments require sizeable space for equipment and supplies used in their programs. Carunchio thought out loud that the county South Street facility might possibly be available as a storage site for paper records and files, emphasizing that it is a county goal to become as “paperless” as possible. The answer to where equipment and other program supplies would be stored was left largely unanswered.
Mary Roper of Independence inquired about the flexibility of the building to accommodate the future needs of county programs. Tatum expressed confidence that the building would have the flexibility to meet them. Carunchio added that he frankly doesn’t see Inyo County government growing any larger. Fifth District Supervisor Matt Kingsley noted, “It should not be assumed that the only growth would take place in Bishop.” Arcularius agreed, saying that she felt most likely any future growth is likely be in the south county where there is more available private land and room for growth.
Tamara Cohn, the Director of Public Health, Programs and Clinical Services for Health and Human Services, stood to voice her opinion that the health clinic on South Street be in the new building and that it would be unfair to both the public and the staff to be left in a building that is simply not in good condition.
Nancy Masters of Independence expressed concern over the “balloon payments” as part of the financing agreement. “Would the money be “set-aside?” she asked, “And what would happen if the county could not make the payment?” To which Carunchio responded that he felt the county should put money aside leading up to the payments, adding that a former budget director told him that you always budget your debt first.
This first of three public meetings on a new county-owned building in Bishop went smoothly. Future public meetings are scheduled for Lone Pine on Monday, August 12 at 6:00 p.m.at Statham Hall; and in Bishop on Monday, August 19 at 6:00 p.m. at the City of Bishop Council Chamber.
For more information or for copies of any materials from the meetings, contact Deputy Public Works Director Jim Tatum at (760) 878-0201.