OSWEGO, NY – The Oswego County Legislature approved (16 yes to 8 no with one absent) to spend up to $1,566,341 for building renovations at the Mexico Department of Social Services building.
The resolution sparked a lengthy debate at Thursday’s meeting with some legislators saying the price tag was too high, especially with taxpayers facing a 7 percent tax hike in the preliminary 2013 county budget proposal.
The estimated cost of the asbestos abatement project, including relocation of the staff and operations to a temporary facility is about $1.5 million, according to the resolution presented by Legislator Jim Oldenburg. The state share is 75 percent, he added.
Legislator Jake Mulcahey wondered if the project could be done “for a lot less money;” reminding the legislature the county is looking to make about $3 million in cuts from the tentative 2013 spending plan to get it down to a zero tax increase.
“We are looking at a 30-year-old building, to which no major improvements have been made over the course of those years,” Legislator jack Proud pointed out.
Because of the asbestos problem, the county has been presented with an opportunity – to maintain and improve the 30-year-old facility that exists and bring it to a modern state to conduct a large part of the county’s business, he added.
“The state has offered us a payment plan whereas they will pay three out of every four dollars for the $1.5 million cost of the project,” he said. “This is an opportunity that will not present itself again.”
Minority Leader Mike Kunzwiler said he appreciates the sense of urgency, but added the legislators have to look at the financial times as they are right now.
He agreed the county should take care of the immediate problem, the asbestos.
“After that, if things turn around, the county turns around with its finances, then we can address the other issues,” he said. “We should be addressing the immediate issue with the budget the way that it is. These are the times we start coming back saying these are the necessities and this is the wish list. I think this is one of them; there’s too much in (this resolution) that shouldn’t be in here.”
The programs have outgrown the DSS building “in a lot of ways,” Legislator Shawn Doyle noted.
“Because of the economy, DSS is being used much more; the programs are expanded. I think this is a necessary evil that we have got to do. It’s going to make the building operate more efficiently.”
As long as the building will be torn up for the asbestos project the county might as well go through and update it all at once, he said.
“It is an investment that will give us more years out of that building,” he added.
Legislator Jim Karasek asked if Building and Grounds could do the work rather than going out to bid for it.
Phil Church, county administrator, said that it might be possible and still have it be reimbursable.
Oldenburg, chair of the Infrastructure and Facilities Committee, agreed that as some of the stuff comes back to the committee for discussion, “at that time the committee can vote yes or no to put it forward to the full (legislature) … if we can do what we can in-house to save a lot of taxpayer money.”
Even if the county puts $1.5 million into the building, it’s still going to be 30 years old, Legislator Doug Malone pointed out.
Perhaps the county should look at tearing it down, moving DSS and maybe building a new building, he said.
The county won’t ever get a cheaper price for the work than what they have now, Legislator Morris Sorbello said.
“I think it’s much wiser to do what you have to do now. Prices do not go down, they go up,” he said. “We just cannot function with this building like it is today. I strongly recommend that we do this now.”
“To sit here and say this is the best time to do all the other stuff, I just don’t agree. I think this is the time when we can’t do it,” Kunzwiler said.
Proud pointed out the county, over the years, has created a number of reserve funds.
“This is a point in time when we can make use of one of those reserve funds, the Building Renovation Reserve Fund,” he said adding that the county’s share of the project can be covered by moving funds from that reserve.