by Graham Sturgeon, co-editor
The Shiawassee County Board of Commissioners tackled several important issues during its monthly week of meetings that concluded Thursday, Aug. 18. During the Wednesday, Aug. 17 Committee of the Whole meeting, the commissioners voted forwarded items to its Thursday agenda that included filling vacancies in the county’s Health Department, Circuit Court, and Veterans Affairs office. The board also moved closer to going paperless, which could save the county nearly $2,000 annually.
The most discussed item on the agenda concerned the potential purchase of the American Red Cross building, 702 W. Corunna Ave., by the Shiawassee Central Dispatch. The board voted to move the item to its Thursday meeting agenda by a vote of 6-1. The purchase would cost Central Dispatch $175,000, plus an estimated $15,000 in additional costs, which would come out of its reserve fund, not from the county’s General Fund. The decision to purchase the building was brought before the board only months after county voters approved a raise in the monthly per-phone surcharge from $1.22 to $2.65, and the timing of the purchase did not sit right with Commissioner Jeremy Root, who questioned why Central Dispatch has been keeping funds in reserve, while at the same time asking voters for more money.
“Why did you save so much money for so many years?” Root asked. “The government is not in the business of making money. We should only be asking voters for what we need, not sitting on reserves. It seems a little funny to me that the voters pass a millage, and now we suddenly need to buy a new building. I feel like you asked the voters for more money than you needed, and I am not okay with that.”
Central Dispatch Lieutenant Pamela Battinkoff explained that her office has been saving for years in preparation for mandated telephone equipment upgrades, which were estimated at roughly $400,000. Fortuitously, Battinkoff and the county’s 9-1-1 board were able to purchase the equipment for less than $200,000, which leaves plenty of funds available to purchase the building. She also pointed out that the Red Cross building became available only two or three weeks ago, and that Central Dispatch will actually be able to make a small amount of money off the building by temporarily leasing it back to the Red Cross, with Central Dispatch slated to move into the facility sometime in 2017. She also emphasized that the current Central Dispatch building would not provide a functional workspace for the “expensive next generation 9-1-1 equipment” due to the deteriorating condition of the building and the lack of workspace.
Commissioner Jeff Bartz defended the purchase by pointing out that the current Central Dispatch building is “falling down,” and added that the low purchase price of the building is almost too good to pass up.
“To build a commercial building of the caliber needed would cost $100 to $125 a square foot,” Bartz said. “Central Dispatch is buying this building for $38 a square foot, which is almost unprecedented, and it would need minimal upgrades.”
Commissioner John Plowman further explained the need for a new Central Dispatch building by detailing some of the other options the board has discussed over the years.
“This board has been discussing a new location for the Central Dispatch for six years,” Plowman said. “We looked into using the Sheriff Department, the Capitan Center, Pleasant View, and we looked at what it would cost to build new. If we’re talking $600,000 to $700,000 for a new building versus $175,000 for the Red Cross building, this certainly looks like a great deal to me.”
Commissioner John Horvath then spoke on the issue, saying he was “befuddled” that Root would vote against the move, which Horvath reasoned would only further protect the community.
“I hate paying taxes too, but I want my tax
money to go towards providing services,” Horvath said Wednesday. “The people of Shiawassee County voted for this; not for the building, exactly, but to make sure Central Dispatch is able to function properly. This will help Central Dispatch protect our community, our future. I just don’t understand how you could vote against this.”
Horvath and Root went back and forth for a few minutes, but could not find common ground on the issue. Plowman eventually attempted to interject, but Root called for a roll-call vote, which then took place without any further discussion.
Also during Wednesday’s meeting, Commissioner Les Schneider gave an update on his investigation into allegations that Shiawassee County Clerk Lauri Braid altered MERS documents without board approval in November of 2014. Schneider, who was tasked with investigating the allegations made by now-retired Chief Deputy Clerk Marcy Brady in July, said he has still not been granted access to all of the documents he needs to conduct a full investigation. Board of Commissioners Chairman Hartmann Aue, however, said that while he did not add Schneider’s name to the MERS access list due to security reasons, he has authorized MERS officials to provide any documents Schneider requests. More information should be made available in the coming weeks, and Schneider will most likely update the board, or give a final report, during the board’s September meetings.