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From the Desk of County Commissioner
 Marty Qually

(4/2014) In early 2013, the Adams County Commissioners and Court began discussions concerning future facilities for County and Court-related offices. In the fall of 2013, the Commissioners requested the Court explore whether a viable alternative existed to the current practice of leasing office space. All parties understood that the discussion was framed in the context of the three most pressing issues involving the management of County facilities: (1) planning for future growth, (2) security, and (3) the efficient and effective use of County facilities to adequately accommodate the needs of both our local government as well as the needs of the community. Importantly, all parties also understood the need for such planning to include responsible fiscal management within the context of the current economy; the plan must be budget neutral at a minimum.

As the Court and County have been involved in facilities planning since as far back as 2006, numerous sources of information were available to assist resolution of the issue presented. Following an initial review of that information, the Court presented an assessment of their findings and offered a proposal to the Commissioners on January 15, 2014. The Court concluded that a new County owned facility could be built for less than the County was currently paying in leases. The Court proposed demolishing the current building on the County owned lot that is currently occupied by the offices of Magisterial District Judge Harvey. The proposal suggested the erection of a facility containing three floors of office space with an additional lower level dedicated to parking at a total construction cost not to exceed $8.3 million. The proposed facility would house the offices of Adams County Children and Youth Services, the Department of Domestic Relations, and the Department of Probation Services. The Court suggested that since each of the affected departments provide critical human services, location of the departments at a joint facility would increase service delivery to the community. While the proposal did not eliminate the need for continued long-term planning, it did address significant issues related to security, overcrowding, and inefficiencies.

Upon receipt of the Court proposal, the County Commissioners reviewed the financial aspects of the proposal. In addition, the Court indicated their intent to form an advisory committee of community members to objectively review the merits of the proposal. The Court Facility Advisory Committee was formed on February 26, 2014 and was tasked with assessing the current state of County facilities with a view towards the best option to further the dual interests of efficient service delivery in a financially responsible manner.

While I cannot possibly outline the Committee’s full report in this article a copy of the full 10 page report may be viewed on the county’s website What follows are excerpts from the report showing seven options that they reviewed and their final recommendation.

The Court’s Committee created and reviewed seven options to address future needs. They were (1) Continued status quo, (2) Purchase the former American Legion Building and the Union Square Building, (3) Purchase either the former American Legion Building or the Union Square Building and continue to lease the other, (4) Remodel the former St. Francis School Building, (5) Build a new facility on the St. Francis property, (6) Build a new facility on the site currently occupied by the Office of Magisterial District Judge Harvey (The original Court proposal), or (7) Build a new facility on the County owned property in Straban Township.

Please take the time to read the entire report to learn the pros and cons of each option, but in the end the Committee chose to endorse the seventh option to build a new facility on the County owned property in Straban Township. The County currently owns a significant amount of property located in Straban which is currently vacant with the exception of the Adams County Correctional Complex and the Emergency Management Building.

The advantage of constructing a new facility at the Straban Township property is that the new facility would eliminate the need to maintain the three existing leases. The County would acquire an asset on its investment and with the ability to construct a building not to exceed $8.3 million. Construction of the facility would result in a long-term tax relief without any increase in short term expenses. The Straban site allows the County to develop a building footprint limited only by expense and thus will promote the most efficient design to deliver the services housed at the facility. The site permits accommodations for unexpected future growth and expansion. Zoning and historic architectural considerations would not preclude construction of an environmentally friendly "green" building. The new facility would be able to provide unlimited parking for employees and the public.

The Committee's evaluation concludes that the Court's proposal for construction of a new facility makes economic sense. The financial information provided establishes that construction of a new facility which does not exceed $8.3 million in total costs will result in a long-term budget savings. The new facility can be developed within the limitations of the County's current budget and would not require any tax increase associated with a new project.

Over the length of the financing, new construction will actually provide tax relief by freeing the County from uncontrollable lease arrangements. Initially, we note that demolition and construction at the St. Francis lot is, at this time, not a financially viable option as it would result in a tax increase. Moreover, the preservation of that lot has potential to accommodate future needs would be preserved and is the proper subject of future discussion and planning. Although the Committee supports the Court's proposal for construction of a new facility, our evaluation has led us in a direction other than construction at the Middle Street property. While construction of a new facility on Middle Street is a viable option, we have concluded that a better option exists. More specifically, construction of a new facility at the Straban lot has much greater potential and best guards the County against unanticipated growth.

While the Committee recognizes that there may be operational hurdles in having the facility located some distance from the Courthouse, it is the belief of the Committee that technological accommodations will minimize this impact. This recommendation is made however taking into account the Court's need to evaluate the impact this distance may have on the operational aspects of Court related services.

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