Hays County Commissioners looked at plans Tuesday for a new government center. Photo by Sean Batura.
By SEAN BATURA
The push for a seven-story, $90 million Hays County government center gained momentum at a commissioners court workshop Tuesday morning.
The proposed government center, the largest building ever attempted by the county, would house most government offices, excluding those such as the sherriff, Precinct 3 commissioner, Precinct 1 commissioner, fire marshall, emergency management, environmental health, road and bridge, agriculture extension and personal health.
Precinct 1 County Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe (D-San Marcos), who is spearheading the effort to build the new government center, negotiated a land swap deal with W.C. Carson for 26 acres near Wonder World Drive and Stagecoach Trail. Carson will receive county land near Thorpe Land and Interstate-35 in exchange. Carson agreed to give the county another four acres and to offer five acres at half its appraised value – $217,000 – if construction of the center begins within two years. The land deal should be finalized within a week.
Ingalsbe cited multiples reasons why a new government center is needed, including a current lack of county office space, inadequate parking, possible damage to computer equipment due to lack of air conditioning space and the destruction of permanent records due to a storage area shortage. Ingalsbe said fire and safety inspections conducted by the county and the San Marcos fire marshal uncovered “numerous code violations” at current county offices.
The commissioners’ court four years ago began budgeting money for county building improvements. The budgeted amount has grown to $3 million, some of which was recently used for a new Precinct 4 office. A portion of the fund will also be used to build a new Precinct 2 office.
“We felt it was just incumbent upon us to put money aside so that when we were ready to build a facility, we would have (money) set aside for the payment,” Ingalsbe said. “We wanted there to be minimal tax implication, if any. And I think that if we continue to build on that fund – we have $3 million now set aside – if we continue to build on that fund, we really believe that we can have the amount to make the payment with no tax implication.”
Ingalsbe said she hopes increased revenue from higher sales taxes and new property appraisals will allow up to $1 million to be added next year to the improvements fund.
“If we continue to add to that and have $4.5 to $5 million in that line item, then it should not see a tax increase – and if we do it should be very minimal,” said Ingalsbe, who declined to speculate about how much taxes would have to be raised to accommodate the building of the government center. She said the $90 million dollar estimate may be higher than the costs, citing an economic situation in which construction projects are less expensive, and mentioning the experience of architects at the workshop who said they witnessed a university building project that ended up costing 28 percent less than the estimated cost.
“I have some fairly…big questions,” said Hays County Judge Liz Sumter (D-Wimberley). “I wonder about financing, I wonder about financing of the jail, of the government center and, of course, the road bond package that we passed. All those things have to come into consideration as we move forward. So we have to be really efficient in what we do.”
Sumter said she thinks the proposed facility may not need to be as large as the current plans specify, and she expressed concern about possible extra costs associated with building on the type of soil present at the proposed site.
“If the cost for just the foundation runs into the millions, then we might be able to save money by relocating,” Sumter said.
The county has hired PBSJ Corporation, which produced design plans for the government center and will be involved in developing the construction documents needed before the county can hire a construction firm. The commissioners court will likely begin looking for a project manager next week, and will probably find one in six weeks.
“That will just help us have another set of eyes to look out for the county’s interests,” Ingalsbe said. “I think there could be some cost savings there. They may see something that we didn’t notice, and (see) ways to cut down on costs.”
The county will probably not begin competitive bidding for construction firms earlier than the end of the year.
“I know that this court – and I feel fairly confident in saying that – that they’re not going to move without considerable public input on these particular issues,” Sumter said.Email | Print