BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
MONTROSE – County building improvements totaling more than $650,000 could prompt officials to issue bonds to help pay for the work.
After Tuesday’s regular Lee County Board of Supervisor’s meeting, Lee County Auditor Denise Fraise presented the board with a list of seven property improvements and some equipment purchases totaling $666,300.
“Since July 1 we’ve had a very interesting year as far as maintenance,” Fraise said.
She presented a list of non-budgeted maintenance costs the county had incurred this year totaling more than $120,000. Included in the list were five air conditioning repairs in the summer totaling close to $30,000, a sewer line repair at the North Lee County building at $29,400 and a new water heater at the Lee County Jail at a cost of $22,142, among other items.
“As you recall in 2016, 70% of the voters in Lee County voted to keep these courthouses and these buildings, so we’ve got to keep them up,” Fraise said.
“We can’t let them go. By letting the courthouse in Keokuk go, I think it’s cost us dearly and we’re still recovering from that.”
Last year the county spent nearly $400,000 renovating that courthouse including roofing, tuck pointing and other repairs.
Fraise said the county doesn’t have enough in the sales tax fund to do the needed repairs and asked the board to consider issuing bonds to pay for the repairs.
The projects include putting in two new boilers and a condenser tank at the South Lee County Courthouse at an estimated cost of $175,000, as well as tuckpointing the North Lee County Courthouse at a cost of $144,000 and a new digital jail security camera system at a cost of $125,000.
The current jail camera system is analog and the new system would be a digital camera operating system.
Other projects include redoing the North Lee County building bathrooms to include Americans with Disability Act compliance at a cost of $80,000, two showers at the Lee County Jail at $75,000, repairs to the front wall at the Heritage Center in Keokuk at a cost of $10,000; recarpeting the first floor of the South Lee County Courthouse at $17,600, purchasing an additional county truck to hook up plow blades to do their own snow removal, and two plow sanders at a cost of $12,700.
Because the total of the project is less than $750,000 the bond doesn’t need to go to an election, unless voters contest the move, which would then force the issue in front of the public.
Approval of the bond would require two public hearings because the truck and plow sanders wouldn’t fall under the essential purpose of the building repair bond.
Fraise said the county’s debt is “very” low compared to other counties.
Budget Director Cindy Renstrum said the fund balance in the sales tax fund, which is the money received from the state as part of the 1% local option sales tax, is at about $306,000 at month’s end in November.
“We really don’t want to get below that $300,000 mark,” Fraise said. “We have to have that for emergencies.”
Supervisor Ron Fedler said some of the figures, like the boilers, are estimates and he’d like to see firm numbers because the county has received engineer estimates in the past that were way off actual costs.
“I remember when we did the south tuckpointing and the engineer estimated $90,000 and it ended up being over $400,000 when they really got into it, and I don’t want to ever come in with that kind of problem again.” Fedler said.
“I would like to know pretty much exactly what they would be rather than we bond for this and then we find out we haven’t bonded enough.”
Supervisor Rich Harlow suggested the county look at switching to furnaces rather than the boilers in the courthouse, but Supervisor Matt Pflug said he didn’t know if they could do that transition and still stay under the $750,000 threshold that doesn’t require an election.
The request came in a workshop session after the regular meeting so the board couldn’t take action on the request, but could put in on an agenda at an upcoming meeting for formal action.