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Swift County adopts phased building plans rather than bonding for larger projects

Swift County Board adopts five-year plan for an estimated $8.3 million in improvements without relying on bonding.

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The Swift County Board of Commissioners approved moving ahead with projects to improve the lower level of the Law Enforcement Center, shown above, and to improve security at the Human Services building. The Law Enforcement Center project will provide offices for 6W Community Corrections in the building. Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune file photo

BENSON — The Swift County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday adopted a phased, five-year plan to address the county’s building needs.

It calls for investing an estimated $8,395,000 in the next five years to address those needs. It will not rely on bonding.

The commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday approved two recommendations from the county’s building committee to address the building needs.

They agreed to create a maintenance fund for the work. It will initially be funded by tapping $500,000 from reserve funds. Ongoing funding will be provided by the annual loan payments to the county from Swift County-Benson Health Services and a $100,000 tax levy.

The commissioners also adopted a five-year list of projects recommended by the building committee. County Administrator Kelsey Baker said the building committee recommended the phased approach for the building needs in place of bonding for a project.

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The new approach takes on “what has to get done” in terms of the county’s building needs, according to Gary Hendrickx, board chairman and member of the building committee. He also noted that the recommended work in the next five years still represents a substantial investment for the county.

The county is also committed to an estimated $125,000 in improvements this budget year. It is tapping $50,000 in reserves to provide a more secure front entry for the Human Services building. It is also tapping its reserves for an estimated $75,000 project to provide a backup generator for the Law Enforcement Center.

The new, phased approach represents a substantial departure from plans a year ago. The commissioners had voted 3-2 to move forward on a $17.8 million project to build a two-story addition and replace the Law Enforcement Center on the courthouse grounds in Benson.

The new plans call for the following:

A Phase I investment of $550,000 will be made in 2021 to renovate the basement of the Law Enforcement Center to accommodate the 6W Community Corrections offices. It is considered a priority to move the offices to the LEC for security reasons. Next year’s Phase I work also includes $50,000 to improve offices and infrastructure in the LEC.

Phase II in 2022 — LEC building lower level mechanical: $250,000 (maintenance fund); LEC shingles: $40,000; Highway Department flooring and ceiling: $100,000 (reserves); Human Services, replace shingles and signage: $100,000 (reserves). Total amount: $490,000.

Phase III in 2023 LEC building parking lot: $25,000 (maintenance fund); Human Services renovation: $1,500,000 (reserves); Highway Department maintenance shop: $4,100,000 (reserves). Total amount: $5,625,000.

Phase IV in 2024 LEC building deferred maintenance and main level heating, ventilation and air conditioning: $1,500,000 (maintenance fund). Total amount: $1,500,000

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Phase V in 2025 Sheriff’s impound building and lot: $30,000 (maintenance fund); Environmental Services: $150,000 (maintenance fund); Courthouse building foundation year 1: to be determined. Total amount: $180,000 plus.

The commissioners likened the five-year plan to the county’s five-year highway plan, noting that it could change based on needs. The commissioners will annually review and approve any projects.

“I am glad to see we have it scheduled and planned,” said Commissioner Ed Pederson. He had been opposed to the original $17.8 million proposal due to its costs and public concerns.

The commissioners approved the new, phased approach after reviewing the 2019 audit and learning that the county is in a strong financial position with sufficient reserves. They also gave tentative approval to a 1 percent increase in the overall tax levy for next year.

In discussions, they expressed concerns that the economic turmoil caused by the COVID-19 pandemic will drain county funds and possibly reduce property values in the coming years.

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The Swift County Board of Commissioners is discussing the possibility of an early retirement option for employees with 15 or more years of service. The county would continue to pay health insurance premiums for up to three years for long-term employees who opt to accept the offer. Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune file photo

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