Butler County is in the midst of budgeting for next year, and a number of major projects have been proposed, including co-locating the coroner’s administrative offices and morgue and historic courthouse renovations.
County Administrator Judi Boyko is compiling a five-year capital improvement plan, in preparation of the elimination of general fund debt at the end of next year, according to the Journal-News. The commissioners talked about multiple options during budget hearings Monday, including a project Butler County Coroner Dr. Lisa Mannix has long sought.
Mannix’ administrative offices are on the sixth floor of the Government Services Center, and she will be paying $69,000 in rent next year for a warehouse that houses the morgue about a mile and a half away on Fairgrove Avenue.
“We have nice facilities, but for efficiency it would be nice to have the administrative offices and the morgue together,” she said. “It would eliminate duplication, it would improve communication, so first off is office efficiency, secondly the morgue currently is in leased space.”
The lease is up in 2021, but the coroner would need to time to make the move. Finding adequate morgue space, however, can be challenging because special equipment is needed, such as operating room lights, an in-floor scale, a refrigerator, a sally port and flooring that can tolerate spills. The morgue has been at its current location since 2003.
Martin Schneider, Mannix’s office administrator, said a lot of money has been spent on non-county-owned property.
“Whenever we do chose to walk away or go into a different location or to anything from the county, that’s just money that we’re not going to recoup,” he said.
The commissioners for years have been looking for ways to get rid of as much leased space as possible and reuse existing properties. Former assets and purchasing director Randy Quisenberry did an inventory of all the county’s properties. In 2015, the county owned or leased 156 properties, not including right-of-way, roads, land bank homes and those types of properties.
Schneider said the last estimate he received on building a new facility was $1 to $3 million, but he noted those figures are dated.
Commissioner Don Dixon said it is time to revisit finding a new home for the coroner’s operations.
“I think we’ve always said we know there’s budget constraints, but we all understood it would be better to do that,” Dixon said. “I think it’s fine to look. We’ve got some other needs that we may have to put a building that would maybe handle both of them.”
Mannix said “I’m happy to share space” but County Commissioner Cindy Carpenter joked that “people don’t want to share space with you.”
Commissioner T.C. Rogers agreed it’s time to revisit the issue.
“Obviously with the amount of rent we’re paying that does cause us to look at the alternative of either converting an existing building or building new,” Rogers said.
Re-purposing an existing county-owed building, if there is one available seems to be the preferred option and Mannix said she is open to anything.
“For me all the options are on the table. Yes, building something is going to be a large capital output, no doubt. Refitting existing space is going to have a cost to it, but it’s already owned,” she said adding they have negotiated the best possible rental rate and she has scoured the other possible options like relocating to a hospital, “All of those I think and the importance to this discussion is that it opens that discussion again. We’re trying to find efficient, cost effective ways of providing the services we provide.”
The commissioners asked Schneider to work with Boyko to identify the best route to take.
The commissioners have also received a request from Butler County Probate Court Judge Randy Rogers to take another look at renovating the Historic Courthouse. Old estimates were around $10 million for a full restoration. He is asking for around $30,000 to study what it will take to replace the roof on the 130-year-old icon, repair sandstone on the facade among other projects.
He wrote in his proposal, “Estimates are now dated and the condition of the outer shell of the building has continued to deteriorate from lack of necessary maintenance or repair.”