Editor's note: Edits were made to Presiding Commissioner Jerry Nolte's comments regarding the annex's space issues for clarification.
As discussions of how Clay County should use the over $50 million they obtained through Certificates of Participations in September, County Commissioners continue to disagree on how to address the growing concerns with the Clay County annex.
Eastern Commissioner Luann Ridgeway said she began analyzing available space for a multitude of employees and offices to serve the County's growing population in 2013.
"We are simply out of space and our 2017 buildings study proves that," she said. "We have numerous existing or historic buildings to repair or renovate to address years of deferred maintenance. Even so, our space requirements cannot be met using existing structures. A new building is needed to serve our citizens, technology and security needs both now and in the foreseeable future."
Presiding Commissioner Jerry Nolte recently held a town hall meeting on the issue with County residents. He said about 80 people attended and sent a clear message.
"There was a pretty clean and unmistaken message that the people were sending that they do not want a new annex," he said. "Especially since we have one that seems to have a lot of deferred maintenance that has not been dealt with."
Nolte said many of the residents seem to still be upset with the COPs, which the County used to obtain the funds intended to build a new annex.
Officials with Clay County Administration said under direction, County staff initiated a space study, to address insufficient physical space for employees, functions of government and storage.
Nolte said during past visits to the Liberty Courthouse, he noticed at least three empty offices and a conference room that does not seem to get much use. He said he also believes the existing annex to be poorly laid out. Because the building’s interior walls consist mainly of temporary type structures, he said, the annex's layout could be addressed, creating more space.
While all the Commissioners and County Administrators agree, the existing annex does have some infrastructure needs that must be addressed, some disagree on how to proceed.
Nolte said his research revealed a few major issues that should be addressed. They absolutely need to fix the roof, he said.
Some of the annex's windows and seals need to be recaulked, he said, which would help protect the building from future water damage. Nolte said the possibility of mold also concerns him.
"The list of “deferred maintenance” ranges from the trivial, like a leaking faucet; to the absurd, a door jamb held together by tape; to the serious, including a leaking roof that requires workers to use buckets, tarps and umbrellas in their offices when it rains," he said.
Another concern Nolte addresses involve the electrical system. He said in a September 2017 Facilities Assessment, Wellner Architects cited an “Arc Flash Hazzard” which they rated as a high priority with equipment that “needs to be replaced immediately.”
He added in a July email sent to the Assistant Administrator for Facilities, County Collector Lydia McEvoy said, “ … there has been arcing in the breaker box,” almost two years later.
Officials with the County Administration said they must also address what they describe as "claims about electrical issues in the current annex."
"The Assistant County Administrator of Facilities has not received reports of electrical ‘arcing,' an electrician has evaluated the building and found no signs of electrical 'arcing,' Assessor and Collector staff who work in the building every day were consulted recently and they are not aware of any electrical 'arcing,'” they said. "The safety of employees and the public is our top priority."
Even with all the repairs to the existing annex, Nolte said, the cost to repair would be significantly lower than a new annex location. He said according to 2017 figures, repairs would cost County taxpayers approximately $238,000 compared to the $20 million needed for a new annex.
Western Commissioner Gene Owen said even if the County spent the money to repair the existing annex, it still would not address the space issues.
"Nolte talks about renovating the existing building. But how does that address the fact Clay County is out of space? It doesn't," he said. "He now wants to spend a quarter of a million dollars fixing up an old building that doesn't work for the County."
Owen said three years ago when the Commission started talking about building an annex, Nolte said he didn't want to spend any more money repairing the current annex. Now, Owen said Nolte wants to blame staff for a supposed lack of repairs to the building.
"I am working toward a professional and functional government in Clay County," he said. "Unfortunately, Nolte only seems to want to continue the political infighting that has held the County back since he's been in office."
Nolte said he does not recall saying he wanted to defer maintenance on the annex building. He added Owen and Ridgeway cannot plead deferred maintenance due to the fact voters elected them in 2012.
POSSIBLE NEW LOCATION
Nolte said he describes Owen as "relentless in promoting a Gladstone location to build a new annex."
He said the lot alone will cost taxpayers $1,597,780.80 and would be purchased from a land-owner who has political ties to Owen.
Owen has indicated he will abstain from any vote concerning the Gladstone property due to his ties with the landowner.
Nolte said Owen also proposes the current owner of the Gladstone property purchase the existing annex and approximately 5.5 acres for $500,000 when the County Assessor’s Office puts the value at about $1.4 million.
"That landowner would then lease our own annex back to the county while the new annex is being built for $4,500 a month … is that a good deal for taxpayers," he asked.
Officials with County Administration said while the current annex land assesses for $1.4 million, they obtained an actual appraisal to determine the actual value of the property. This appraisal will not be released due to ongoing negotiations. The Missouri Sunshine law allows government entities to withhold an appraisal from being public record if the release could impact business negotiations.
Statute 610.021 states, “Closed meetings and closed records authorized when, exceptions. Except to the extent disclosure is otherwise required by law, a public governmental body is authorized to close meetings, records and votes, to the extent they relate to the following: (2) Leasing, purchase or sale of real estate by a public governmental body where public knowledge of the transaction might adversely affect the legal consideration therefor. However, any minutes, vote or public record approving a contract relating to the leasing, purchase or sale of real estate by a public governmental body shall be made public upon execution of the lease, purchase or sale of the real estate;”
Nolte said Owen then specifically sought the most expensive alternative lot at $2,613,026, about $1 million higher as a second choice.
"If we must build a new annex, we should use the 5.5 acres we own at the existing annex site," he said. "It has plenty of space and there would be no land acquisition cost to taxpayers."
Owen said Nolte will cost Clay County taxpayers at least $1 million if he forces the project to go to Kansas City instead of Gladstone.
"Gladstone's site is the best location for the County to choose," he said. "Some people have said it doesn't lay out properly. There is no perfect site. But this is the best option: the site is good, it is functional and it will work. The seller offered an option to purchase our current annex and allow the County to use the existing building during the construction phase of a new building. Now it doesn't look like the Gladstone site is going to get a green light from the County. It's ridiculous and dirty politics for Nolte to play games with the annex. The Commission didn't wake up one morning and decide to build a new annex. This project has been underway for 3 years. If we were bringing this new facility to Gladstone, it wouldn't force our employees to pay Kansas City's earnings tax."
Nolte said the County taxpayers have not been given many opportunities to get information and express their opinions. Because the regular Commission meetings take place during the day, he said people who have day jobs cannot easily attend.
Nolte said he proposed a Citizen’s Annex Advisory Board to look at our choices, inform the public and report back to the Commission. He said to this point his proposal, "has not been allowed to even be discussed at a Commission meeting, much less voted on."
Nolte said he encourages Clay County residents to attend the vote, which will likely take place during the County Commissioner's meeting to be held 10 a.m., Monday, July 15 in the Liberty courthouse.
Nolte said he sees the decision whether to fix the existing annex or build a new one to be simple.
"When your roof leaks you don’t sell your home, you fix the roof before you need tarps and umbrellas inside," he said. "To me the choice is simple, repair our neglected building for one or two percent of the $20 million borrowed money for a new building."