Starke County Commissioners Discuss Funding Options for County Projects

Starke County Commissioners ( L to R ) Kathy Norem, Dan Bridegroom, Jennifer Davis

A special meeting was called by the Starke County Commissioners to discuss possible solutions to problems with some of the county buildings, as well as various options for funding some of their recent projects. Several issues were mentioned in particular, such as the jail being short on space under a leaky roof, the courthouse elevator in need of repair with cramped offices on the second floor, and the prosecutor’s office in need of handicap access to name a few.  Because of the expense of these projects, the commissioners met with representatives from H.J. Umbaugh & Associates and RQAW to discuss possible problem solutions and financial strategies.

“Well, today’s meeting was an update, really, from a study we started last year with the county. RQAW is looking at facilities that the county owns, improvements that are necessary. Umbaugh, our firm, was looking at the financial landscape of the county to determine what resources will be available to address capital needs, et cetera. So, after they’ve had time to absorb all that and some other things have come up, this was a meeting to kind of update where things stand and how to move forward,” said Todd Samuelson of H.J. Umbaugh & Associates.

There are a lot of upcoming projects on the county’s plate. The jail is a bit small, and with its new recommended installation of a padded cell, the time is approaching for an increase in space; meanwhile, the roof is leaking and the HVAC unit needs repaired. At the same time, the courthouse is running low on room on its second floor, but there is a lack of space to expand and offices on the second floor departments are so closely tied that separating them would cause more problems than solutions. Also, there is a lack of handicap access to the prosecutor’s office which is by no means an inexpensive expenditure.

These projects are not cheap. The courthouse elevator is expected to cost at least $70,000 and the repairs on the jail roof $50,000. One proposed strategy is to implement a “special projects” fund and borrow money from the state to fund the various projects; To repay the money, however, the commissioners recommended increasing the tax rate by two to three cents, which would allow the state to repay a $500,000 loan over two years. As of now, this is just the first idea, and there will be more discussion and probably many more ideas presented before a decision is made.

“We are, RQAW and Umbaugh both, are going to put together some additional information for the commissioners and the council to consider as far as a financial plan to address capital needs that the county has and try to prioritize those needs,” said Samuelson.

The slight tax rate increase would likely affect property tax, but nothing is set in stone yet. More discussion will take place at the joint County Commissioners’ and City Council meeting scheduled for April 11th at 6:00 p.m.