Commissioners trade charges over building’s status

By Traci Chapman
Published on September 1, 2008

In September 2007, Canadian County officials spent $300,000 to purchase a building for the county treasurer’s office — today it still sits vacant.

District 1 Commissioner Phil Carson said Monday he has fielded complaints from “a lot” of residents concerned with the county’s purchase of a building which has been sitting unused for almost a year, a structure which Carson said was touted as “move-in ready” by District 2 Commissioner Don Young.

Carson said Young was the county’s liaison on the building purchase. One of the selling points for the purchase, Carson said, was the building wouldn’t need a lot of work before employees of the treasurer’s office could move in — statements he said Young made to commissioners and county staff.

“We have a severe problem in this building because we have so many people searching records and lining the hallways. It’s a problem within the building, it’s a parking nightmare — we’re trying to scramble around and squeeze people in here when we’ve got a building sitting empty across the street that was supposed to be easy to get ready for those employees,” he said.

Young disputed Carson’s statement the building was purchased “move-in ready,” and said he never claimed it didn’t need “some major” renovations before county employees could occupy it.
“That’s a flat lie — don’t be putting words in my mouth,” Young said.

Carson said commissioners purchased the building — located across the street from the county courthouse — from attorney Mark Henricksen, closing on the building purchase on Sept. 14. At roughly the same time, Carson said county employees began renovations to the building next to the Henricksen office, purchased from Red Rock Behavioral Health Services. The Red Rock building, purchased for $250,000, was slated for use by the county assessor’s office. Carson’s crews started remodeling the building, which he said needed “a lot” of work, “as quickly as we could” after taking it.

“We got some estimates from companies on the assessor’s building, and we knew we could effect the repairs and remodeling for a lot less using inmate labor,” he said. “It’s taken awhile — there were a lot of changes that needed to be made — but we’re wrapping up the project now.”

Carson said those changes — such as converting a myriad of “small pockets of offices” into workable space — had his crews working continuously on the facility for about a year. While he said committing some of his workers, including supervisor Dennis Land, full time to the renovation caused his shop “a bit of a hardship,” it was worth the effort, as the price tag on the project dropped from an estimated $300,000 to $50,000.

“We were able to fund a countywide employee raise with the funds saved from doing this with our employees and inmate labor,” Carson said.
“Although we’ve been short two truck drivers, and we really could have used Dennis on other projects, it was a good investment for the county.”

Employees in the assessor’s office have begun moving into the building, and the last finishing touch — fitting out a public restroom in the space — is expected to be completed by the end of this week or early next week, Carson said.

While Carson’s crews started working on the Red Rock building last fall, he said County Treasurer David Radcliff asked him to hold off on doing any work on the Henricksen building until “after tax season.” By the time Radcliff’s “crunch time” had passed, Carson said he was not chairman, and “it wasn’t my place to push the work on the building.”

Young, who took over the chairman’s post in January, said Monday Radcliff is still working on plans for the space and confirmed the site has been “untouched” since the county purchased the property last year.

Radcliff said it was his impression renovations to the office would be completed by Land and using inmate labor “like on the assessor’s office” after that project was completed. He disputed Carson’s description of the building’s condition, saying, “It was a very good deal, but it does need quite a bit of work. For example, the floors need reworking, the bathrooms are not handicap accessible, and there is a safe room in the front of the office that needs to be renovated so our employees can serve the public,” he said. “We figured it might be next summer until it was ready for us.”

Carson said it does not matter now why the renovations haven’t been started, but it is time to “get moving” on the project.

“We spent $300,000 on this building to relieve pressure in our building — that’s quite an investment of the taxpayers’ money,” he said.
“It’s time, in fact, it’s way past time, to do something about it. I’m not the chairman, and I haven’t been for nine months — the chairman needs to push to get this under way and completed as quickly as possible. It’s been a year now, and it’s not reasonable to think it’s OK for this building to just sit there. My district is not the only one with employees and with access to inmate labor, if that’s a consideration.”

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