By JIM MAURER
Plans for a renovated Hancock County Probate/Juvenile Court building on Dorney Plaza have been scrapped by the county commissioners in favor of constructing a new building in the same area of downtown Findlay.
Garmann/Miller and Associates, a Minster architect, is designing the building, which will be funded with revenue from a quarter-percent continuing sales tax approved by the Hancock County commissioners last fall.
The estimated 11,000- to 15,000-square-foot building will cost an estimated $4.5 million to $5 million. Bids will be sought later this year, said Commissioner President Tim Bechtol.
The building could also include the county’s domestic relations court, which is located in the courthouse now.
The commissioners are considering constructing the building between the existing building and the courthouse. The glass-enclosed security entrance to the courthouse could be removed and a security entrance constructed to serve both buildings.
The current probate/juvenile court building could be renovated for other departments, for storage of county records, or demolished.
Commissioner Mark Gazarek voted against imposing the sales tax, saying there were other ways to fund jail expansion and the county building construction.
The tax, expected to generate about $3.4 million annually, replaces a 10-year tax approved by voters to fund flood-reduction efforts. The commissioners let that tax expire at year-end 2018 and replaced it with the continuing tax, which also will fund expansion of the county jail and county operations, such as money for the county Department of Job and Family Services, sheriff’s office vehicles and maintenance of county buildings.
In November, the commissioners met with a jail expansion committee that includes Findlay and county officials, and personnel from the state Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections to discuss the steps necessary for county jail expansion.
A needs assessment by the National Institute of Corrections, at no cost to the county, will be done to determine the size, capacity and type of jail necessary.
Then a letter will be sent to the state, which will assign a project manager to work with the commissioners and jail committee.
The jail could be expanded in several directions, Bechtol said. To the west is a Findlay-owned parking lot which the county would have to negotiate to use for jail construction.
The expansion could include treatment rooms for inmates and space for the county adult probation department.
The probation department is now using space in a county-owned building on South Main Street. Adults on probation report to the office and must use a side alley entrance. They tend to congregate in the area.
The new court building will be planned this year, with construction likely in 2020, while jail expansion is likely in 2021.
A county strategic plan was developed last year and presented last month. The county paid Six Disciplines Consulting Services $15,000 to work with elected county officials on the latest plan for county finances and projects.
The plan includes expansion of the county jail; construction of a new probate/juvenile court building; improving roads at critical locations so safety forces have access during emergencies; continued flood-reduction efforts; and increasing the set-aside amount in the county’s “rainy day” fund to assist with emergency expenditures.
County Auditor Charity Rauschenberg is working with the state to determine the set-aside amount, and Commissioner Brian Robertson has been meeting with her to discuss the issue.
He said a six-month set-aside would be a good plan. There was enough in June 2017 to cover a six-week cash flow.
Design work may be done this year on improvements to several transportation corridors, Bechtol said, with support from the state Department of Transportation.
There are six areas around the city which need to be raised, Robertson said. One is the intersection leading to the Martin Luther King Jr. Way overpass on East Main Cross Street, and the road on the other side of the same overpass, a low point where high water halts traffic.
“We want to make it seamless to get in and out of Findlay during high water events,” Bechtol said.
Underground Utilities, Monroeville, last year completed construction of a waterline to the Hancock County landfill and about 15 nearby Allen Township properties.
The waterline extension on Allen Township 142 created a waterline “loop” with an existing waterline on Hancock County 99. Cost was nearly $1 million and installation was finished in June.
The landfill funded $714,359, including a $321,512 low-interest loan from the state. Findlay paid $280,000.
A lateral expansion at the landfill has been finished and is operational. Vernon Nagle Inc., Napoleon, bid $2.77 million, the lowest of three bids received in April.
The work was completed for more than $2.72 million. The landfill funded the work, not the county’s general fund.
The landfill had revenue of more than $5.7 million in 2018 and accepted 142,509 tons of trash. A majority, 111,748 tons or 78.4 percent, came from Hancock County.
The amount of trash accepted increased annually from 2013 until 2018, when it dropped slightly.
In 2013, 119,326 tons were received; 122,575 tons in 2014; 127,831 tons in 2015; 132,190 in 2016; and 145,213 in 2017.
The 2019 landfill budget is more than $4.8 million and includes $600,000 borrowed last year and being repaid this year. The remaining budget of $4.2 million is about the same as the total revenue in 2014.
Last year, the commissioners approved borrowing $1.5 million for jail repairs, with $1 million of the total for sliding doors on jail cells, for the safety and security of staff and inmates.
The remainder was for faucet replacement in jail cells; exterior tuckpointing and sealing of brick; painting cell block areas to pass health department inspections; roof repair; piping repair in the inmate booking area; painting the sliding doors; door replacement on the stairway; roof on catwalk (enclosed area between the jail and the municipal building); and roof repainting.
Some of the exterior work will be done this year.
In March 2018, the commissioners approved the purchase and installation of a new phone system from TSC Communications, Wapakoneta. The company was recommended by the county’s information technology department after a review of six bids.
Cost will be about $566,000 for a five-year service agreement, including about $185,000 for equipment.
The Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, phone system allows individuals to use the internet as the transmission medium for telephone calls.
The system replaces an analog system with a digital system. The county’s 31-year-old phone system, with service provided by AT&T, includes 296 handsets and 322 phone lines.
The AT&T contract ended last September and the county did not extend the agreement.
The new phone system utilizes a fiber optic loop project which connects the city and county offices with the city school system.