County looks to purchase office building in New Richmond
St. Croix County Board Chair Daryl Standafer told Hudson Rotary members that the county is close to a deal on purchasing the old County Market Building in New Richmond to house employees of the Health and Human Services Department.
The Administration Committee for the St. Croix County Board voted July 15 to recommend that the offices be moved to the former grocery store location. The purchase price for the building, if approved, would be $1.28 million. The full county board will consider the matter at its Aug. 6 meeting.
The Health and Human Services department is currently housed in the county-owned facility on the northwestern edge of New Richmond.
"Two years ago the county board voted to decommission the existing building," Standafer said. He said the current building is in poor condition and not meeting the needs of health agency.
"Because of the configuration of the building, it didn't justify a capital investment," Standafer said.
The county first considered leasing the space.
"The price of leasing the space ended up being too high," Standafer said. "It became obvious that buying the building was a much better option.
"The cost to lease over five years far exceeded the opportunity to own the facility and do our own renovations. We have explored a number of options. This alternative -- purchase of an existing well located building with substantial parking -- is the most cost effective route."
He said that if the sale is completed, and renovations made, Health and Human Services can be moved from an obsolete facility to a safe and efficient facility,
He also said that if the building didn't work out in the future, the structure could be sold. The change will mean Health and Human Service employees will still be housed in New Richmond, which Standafer call a "plus."
The structure, located on Hwy. 65 on the south edge of the city of New Richmond, has been empty since December 2006. It is owned by Gary Cooper.
The county is currently on record to build a new nursing home in New Richmond, but Standafer said that will not happen easily.
The home has been the subject of controversy for more than two decades and has been on the sale block several times. Several counties around the state have gotten out of the nursing home business. A county-wide referendum, however, showed strong sentiments in favor of the county's continued operation.
"The problem is that the resolution to build the home passed by a one-vote margin," Standafer said. "In order to acquire the bonding to build a new home, it would require a super majority (three/fourths). We are proceeding with acquiring permits, etc. But acquiring the funding could be an issue."
Standafer said he is continuing to work with other governmental units to match and cooperate with services and space needs.
He mentioned he has discussed a couple of possibilities with the city of Hudson.
"They may need space for public safety in the future; we may need additional court space in the future," Standafer said. "Maybe we can cooperate on a structure. We attempt to do the best job we can to manage the needs and demands in the most cost effective way."
He also mentioned the possibility of combining dispatch centers with other counties, for instance Pierce County.
When asked, he said the three largest budget items are health and human services, road and the sheriff's department.
"Our budget is $80 million this year," Standafer said. "Of that, 26 million comes from county taxpayers. The rest comes from other sources, including fees for services, etc."
He said the county has 630 employees, yet operates somewhat "invisibly."
"The truth is, much of what we do is routine. It's a layer of government that most people know little about.
"Everyone knows who the president (federal) is, everyone knows who the governor (state) is and everyone knows who the mayor (local) is. If I asked 10 people on the sidewalk, probably no one could tell you who the county board chair is."