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Nearly five years after the county rejected a proposal to relocate county offices, Hardin Fiscal Court has approved construction of a new facility off Ring Road that will move the bulk of Hardin County government out of downtown Elizabethtown.
Fiscal Court on Tuesday afternoon approved an agreement with Elizabethtown-based ICON Engineering & Inspection Services to design a nearly 60,000-square-foot facility on roughly eight-and-a-half acres of county property adjacent to the Hardin County Emergency Medical Services facility near the intersection of Ring and Rineyville roads. The cost for the $12 million facility is based on an estimate of $200 per square foot. No new taxes have been proposed to pay for it.
Hardin County Magistrate Bill Wiseman was the lone dissenting vote, which came because he promised his constituents he would fight to keep county offices downtown. Wiseman said he believes the offices should remain downtown, where all needs could be met outside of the Hardin County Sheriff’s Office. Wiseman said he believes a nearby property could be obtained to satisfy those needs.
The county allocated $500,000 toward design of the facility in its current budget and pursued new office space because it has outgrown existing facilities.
The new facility is expected to house Fiscal Court chambers, judge-executive offices, county clerk offices, county sheriff offices, property valuation administrator offices, planning and development, engineering, finance and personnel and solid waste and code enforcement, according to Judge-Executive Harry Berry.
The structure also would house a new E-911 center, which would take up roughly 8,000 square feet of space and constitute $1.6 million of the overall cost of the facility, Berry said.
Berry said the county is not abandoning downtown because the Hardin County Attorney’s Office plans to consolidate its criminal and child support divisions and support staff, relocating from its offices on East Dixie Avenue to the H.B. Fife Courthouse.
The R.R. Thomas building, which takes up a large corner of Public Square and houses several county offices, would likely be sold to a commercial or real estate prospect. Berry said the county will work with Elizabethtown city government and the Elizabethtown-Hardin County Heritage Council to find a buyer for the property in line with the city’s revitalization plans.
ICON was awarded architectural and engineering services after completing an office space analysis in December that indicated a multi-level building of roughly 59,000 square feet was needed to accommodate 10 county departments and their staff. The report also mentioned a need for roughly 279 parking spaces. The agreement is expected to net a sum of roughly $700,000 for ICON, but the fee will be adjusted depending on the final cost of the project, said Michael Childers, the firm’s founder.
To pay for construction, Berry said the county will produce an equity investment of $2 million, $500,000 of which will be removed from E-911 reserves. The other $1.5 million could be pulled from trust fund assets, he said.
The remaining $10 million would be bonded over a 25-year period at a 3.5 percent interest rate, producing an annual debt service of $600,000, Berry said.
According to Berry’s report, $120,000 of the debt could be funded annually through an E-911 lease payment. The remaining $480,000 must be covered through reserves for the first year and a half but savings obtained from the retirement of old debts could offset the debt in future years, Berry said.
According to a chart produced by Berry, the county’s annual debt payments exceed $2.5 million now but will taper off gradually, starting in the 2015-16 fiscal year.
Prior to the vote, community leaders and concerned residents spoke out against the move, questioning the hastiness of the decision and decrying the lack of public discussion leading up to such a monumental vote. Some said county residents should have a say in the process because their tax dollars are funding the project, calling for a town hall meeting.
Heath Seymour, executive director of the Heritage Council, said the relocation of downtown offices is a costly, “200-year decision” that should be discussed in earnest before action is taken.
“I understand the need for space, but I think there is a need for discussion,” he said.
Seymour joined Elizabethtown City Council in calling on the county to partner on a solution to keep the offices downtown. He said the merger of local governments was exhaustively debated, but this decision flew under the radar.
“This seems like a keystone step in a metro merger, and we’re not even discussing it,” Seymour said.
Magistrate Dwight Morgan said he understands the opposition to the plan but sees a need for the move.
“It’s time we merge our county offices to make it a lot more accessible to those (who frequent them),” especially the elderly and handicapped, Morgan said.
Magistrate Fred Clem said he holds a personal attachment to the historical buildings, but the offices are deteriorating and the presence of county government may be a hindrance to downtown revitalization because neither residents nor visitors seek out county services as an attraction. Clem pledged his assistance in helping downtown reach its potential.
“We’ve got to look to the future,” he said.
Magistrate Lisa Williams agreed with Clem and said the city should focus on recruiting artists and entrepreneurs downtown.
“I hope you look at this as an opportunity,” she said.
Elizabethtown Mayor Tim Walker, who attended the meeting alongside Radcliff Mayor J.J. Duvall, said Fiscal Court has spoken, declining to partner with the city on a plan to keep county offices downtown. Walker said his objective is to focus on a smooth and seamless transition while working with the county on the sale of the R.R. Thomas building.
“I have to support their decision and make the best of the situation,” Walker said.
Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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