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More ups, downs for county, its dwindling finances

WILLMAR -- By the end of the year, Kandiyohi County will have to modernize and make safety code changes to 11 elevators in county buildings -- a project that could cost more than half a million dollars.

"This is not good news," said County Administrator Larry Kliendl on Tuesday as he explained the situation to the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners. "But there's not a lot we can do about it."

During a routine elevator inspection late last year, the county was told that new safety codes had to be implemented by Jan. 1, 2012.

"If we don't do this, they shut the elevators down," Kleindl said. "There's no negotiation."

A memo to the county from Todd Tischer, a consultant with Elevator Consulting Services Inc., said the new code for existing elevators and escalators was adopted by the state in 2007 and that there is no plan to extend the compliance time table. That means public entities, like Kandiyohi County, have about a year to meet the codes.

"This will be expensive but the state is adamant about compliance based on safety," wrote Tischer.

Because county officials just recently became aware of the end-of-year deadline to meet the safety codes, the commissioners had not budgeted for such a large expense.

"Where are you going to find this money," Commissioner Jim Butterfield asked Kleindl.

"No clue," he responded.

A preliminary proposal by Tischer estimates that it will cost the county $289,500 for the bare minimum changes to bring the elevators up to code.

It will cost a total of $519,500 to meet the codes and to modernize the county's oldest elevators.

The main elevator in the courthouse, installed in 1960, will cost $80,000 just to bring it up to codes. It will cost $150,000 to bring it up to code and to be fully modernized.

The county's newer elevators, like the ones in the Health and Human Services Building, will need about $5,000 in improvements to meet codes.

"This is not a cheap cost," said Kleindl, adding that if the county had been aware of this expense during its budgeting process, the levy would have increased about 2 percent to provide adequate revenue.

Commissioner Harlan Madsen said he was irritated the county had to incur half a million in expenses for something that would likely have "very little benefit" for the county. He said it's "absurd" to spend $80,000 on one elevator when it's functioning.

One of the major codes is a multi-phase "fireman's service operation" of elevators that even Tischer noted would likely have "limited use."

During a later interview, Kleindl said he understands that elevators need to be safe but said the regulation, inspection and maintenance of elevators has become its own bureaucracy that will increase the county's cost of doing business.

"All I know if that it's going to cost a heck of a lot of money," he said.

Kleindl proposed hiring Elevator Consulting Services Inc., at a cost not to exceed $13,095, to analyze the elevators and draw up bids specs for the improvements. The company will be at the next meeting to discuss the issue with the commissioners.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750