County to consider bonds for courthouse

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 20, 2001

Freeborn County commissioners could vote to bond for a proposed courthouse renovation project before deciding on a specific plan, to lock in at a low interest rate.

Friday, April 20, 2001

Freeborn County commissioners could vote to bond for a proposed courthouse renovation project before deciding on a specific plan, to lock in at a low interest rate.

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Chairman Dave Mullenbach suggested the move, and other commissioners agreed it could be a wise financial decision for the county.

&uot;I think it’s a wise way to manage money because we know the interest rates, we know they are not going to go much lower than they are at,&uot; Commissioner Dan Springborg said.

Commissioner Dan Belshan opposed borrowing money before the board makes a renovation decision, saying such a move would be speculation.

&uot;It’s not our job to speculate on what interest rates are going to do,&uot; Belshan said.

But other commissioners disagreed. Commissioner Glen Mathiason said he agreed with the idea capturing low-interest money.

&uot;If you’re locking in dollars you know you have to spend, you’re hedging money you know you have to spend,&uot; Commissioner Mark Behrends said. &uot;If you get more than you know you’re going to spend, then you’re speculating.&uot;

The board voted against a similar motion proposed two years ago by then-Chairman Brian Jordahl.

The issue will likely be addressed at the next regular board meeting, commissioners said.

While the funding is debated, commissioners continue to hash out the county’s facility needs. A new courthouse must be safe, efficient and cost effective, commissioners said.

To facilitate discussion, board members listed criteria for selecting a renovation plan, then ranked them individually. They decided that future county needs, cost value, security, operating efficiency, technological incorporation and flexibility were the most important criteria to weigh options against.

On average, board members listed flexibility and future needs as the most important criteria. Additional space needs, operating efficiency and security ranked slightly lower.

Historic significance and public space were considered least important by the commissioners. Downtown presence, image, parking and jail facilities were considered moderately important.

The exercise doesn’t eliminate any design options, but should help commissioners prioritize their thinking, said University of Minnesota Extension Educator Kendall Langseth.

Commissioners have not heard whether the Wal-Mart site at Skyline Mall, which may be vacated if the store moves, is for sale, and some say they think renovating the building is not the county’s best option.

Wal-Mart’s lease on the property won’t run out for at least 10 years, and the board would have to deal with Wal-Mart, a banking trust, and another firm to arrange the purchase, said County Recorder Kelly Callahan.

Commissioners disagreed whether the Wal-Mart site would be the right place to move even if it were available, but agreed to get more information before ruling out the idea.

&uot;My opinion is the only problem we would solve there would be a parking problem,&uot; Mullenbach said. &uot;I just personally feel that it would be a high-cost thing.&uot;

Besides remodeling, the building could need extensive repairs, he said.

Remodeling the courts and jail in the current location would be much more expensive than remodeling office space, Belshan said.

&uot;You sure can do beautiful offices for $1 million,&uot; he said.

Mathiason said his constituents feel moving off site to the Wal-Mart location is a great idea. It would also help keep traffic in the mall once Wal-Mart leaves, he said.

&uot;Maybe I’m looking at it wrong, but we can’t spend $25 million in this county,&uot; he said.

&uot;I can see you spending a pile of money here to make it courts and jail and it would still be makeshift, and spend a chunk of money out there to make it administrative and it would still be kind of makeshift,&uot; Behrends said.

&uot;If you’re going to do something different, move the jail and court system,&uot; Springborg agreed.

Another option would be to build a new jail and courts facility off-site and expand and remodel offices in the current buildings.

In addition to free land that has offered by Freeborn-Mower Cooperative Services, Mullenbach suggested looking at other locations. The offer was generous and appreciated, but the land is probably going to be the least expensive portion of any project, he said.

&uot;But if it’s the smallest portion of this project, we should be looking at if it’s the right place to put it,&uot; Mullenbach said. &uot;If it’s not the right place to move it, we should be looking at where that is,&uot;

If more land were available near the county Highway Department shop it could be more efficient to build there, he said. The area is already hooked up to sewer and water service, and it would keep county departments more centralized, he said.

&uot;So we could solve two problems out there at the same time,&uot; he said.