San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

August 13th, 2009
County picks $89.5M office option

Hays County Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley, left, and Precinct 4 Commissioner Karen Ford, right. Ford voted for the $89.5 million county office building option, while Conley voted against it. Photo by Sean Batura.

News Reporter

The Hays County Commissioners Court, presented with three project scenarios for a new county office building Tuesday, opted Tuesday to go with the most expensive.

By a 3-2 vote, commissioners court members directed consultant Broaddus and Associates (B&A) to work up a short list of design build proposals calling for less than $89.5 million for the government center planned for construction near Wonder World Drive and Stagecoach Trail.

The proposed government center – the largest and most costly building ever constructed by the county – will likely be built within two years and house most county offices, though commissioners haven’t decided precisely which departments will be located there. B&A probably will present the short list to the court within two weeks.

Hays County Judge Liz Sumter (D-Wimberley) and Hays County Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley (R-San Marcos), who voted in the minority, expressed support for a scenario proposed by B&A that called for a maximum total project cost of $73.8 million and fewer county offices located in the future government center.

“Y’all don’t have to drill into my head the (space) needs for the county,” Conley said to his colleagues. “I’m familiar with just about every office in the county, and (I) certainly understand where we are. At the same time, this isn’t an endless pot of money that we have to deal with here.”

County Auditor Bill Herzog said the scenario proposed by B&A and chosen by the court may entail the county making payments of $6.9 million annually for 20 years, which would put the actual cost to taxpayers at about $140 million. Commissioners have said they may allocate 4.5 cents in the property tax rate for spending on building improvements in next year’s budget, which Herzog said would yield about $4.5 million per year.

B&A representative Brenda Jenkins said firms submitting design-build proposals will compete with one another to make the total project cost as low as possible.

“If we start lower and lock them in on price and want to do more, we will be hit with change orders, and we will be exploited,” said Hays County Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton (D-Kyle). “It’ll be the perfect opening to break the bank.”

People working in county offices, such as those located in the Justice Center in the old H-E-B building on Guadalupe Street, have reported overcrowding. The county, lacking sufficient space at its jail, is paying to have prisoners housed elsewhere. Herzog said maintaining probation offices costs the county maintain $11,000 per month in rent, which he said increases five percent every year. If the county does not build the government center within two years, land near Wonderworld Drive the county acquired from W.C. Carson will be given back to him without a refund.

“I believe we need to move forward as quickly as possible,” Conley said. “Our justice center is a dump. Everybody knows it. And there are bigger things happening in San Marcos that (make it) essential for the county to get out of the downtown area at this point in time, for those plans to move forward. I’m just trying not to take such a big bite and (trying to) narrow that (design concept) a little bit (by leaving out) the auditor, human resources and treasurer and elections folks. It doesn’t mean there aren’t issues there, but I think they are manageable issues.”

Precinct 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe (D-San Marcos), who has spearheaded the effort to build a government center for four years, said she might support the offices of auditor, human resources, treasurer and elections being left out of the government center. Ingalsbe said she does not want the government center to be smaller than 233,000 square feet, about the size proposed by B&A in its Scenario 1.

Scenario 2, supported by Conley and Sumter, entailed an 181,300 square-foot building. Conley proposed modifying that scenario by eliminating a district courtroom to yield space for the adult probation and juvenile probation departments, whose inclusion in the government center he called “a no-brainer.” B&A had not included those departments in the government centers of Scenarios 2 or 3, the latter of which entailed a 141,000 square foot building with a total project cost of $59.6 million.

Sumter said the court should consider putting the district attorney’s office and the county’s other justice system-related offices in the same complex as a new county jail.

“I was making the assumption that the jail facility stays where it is,” said Conley after hearing Sumter’s idea.

The county jail in April failed a state inspection conducted at the behest of Hays County Sheriff Tommy Ratliff. The inspector found at least seven areas of noncompliance with state law, some of which, she said, posed health, safety and security concerns for inmates, staff and the public. Texas Commission on Jail Standards Executive Director Adan Munoz said recently that Hays County needs a new jail.

The county last month authorized B&A to hire MGT of America, Inc. (MGT) to conduct a study of the existing jail. The results of the MGT study will be factored into B&A’s county facilities assessment, the results of which may be used to determine what offices may be relocated to the future government center.

Sumter advised the court to avoid acting on the government center issue in haste, as the county’s budget for next year has not been approved, nor the jail study completed. After Sumter proposed returning to the government center issue later, Hays County Precinct 4 Commissioner Karen Ford (D-Dripping Springs) objected.

“This decision has been weighed and weighed and waited on for many years now, and the costs have only gone up,” Ford said. “So I think we need to be realistic about what we’re going to need in the next 20 to 30 years. And that’s what we’re going to be putting into this building, not something that’s a number that we’re going to be afraid to put on our tax rate today.”

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0 thoughts on “County picks $89.5M office option

  1. The commissioners and judge should stop relying on consultants to make their decisions for them. How much has the county spent on various consultants in the last 2 years?
    The proposed office complex is unnecessary. A few departments are getting crowded and the current Justice Center is not ideal, but $140 Million is WAY TOO MUCH to spend on a few space issues. The commissioners and consultants haven’t even determined which offices will be moved there, so how are they able to come up with such large plans? The reality is that there is no way to foresee the county’s needs “in the next 20 to 30 years”. I would go on but it seems that the people running this county aren’t interested in what their constituents think.

  2. That about sums it up for me too. Maybe it’s just the way this reads, but not knowing what the mission is before taking off to accomlish it is a bad idea and anyone should know that. And maybe, just maybe, the county doesn’t need this land at Stagecoach. It’s prime commercial land that could serve many purposes and stay on the tax rolls. If you want to do something like this, why not move it way out into the country where it doesn’t cost as much. We did it with our kids and the new high school, so why isn’t that being considered here. The last thing I want to see in a busy area like Stagecoach is a entire jusice center fiasco. Not necessary. For this money, you’d expect a state-level facility.

  3. @Jason:
    A few points:

    1. Consultants are used because our elected officials aren’t necessarily experts in building materials/construction/capacity analysis/etc. I’m doing my best to avoid the obvious joke that they aren’t experts in anything at all.

    This building is likely aimed at lasting a few decades, so they had better damn well plan ahead and use plenty of consultants, rather than randomly choose a site and a low-bid contractor.

    2. There’s a minimum workforce size per current government office, and a maximum. Knowing that, there are all sorts of ways to get a fairly accurate determination of needed building size.

    3. Historical growth along with the data of surrounding areas will likely give a good picture of the growth of the city. How do you think non-government entities plan for their own growth?

    It’s just statistical analysis (the teaching of which is sorely lacking in our schools).

    Anyhow, I think people’s initial knee-jerk response is to deny the necessity of this building based on the cost alone, instead of waiting for the facts or reviewing the documents themselves.

    Whether or not there was impropriety in the process remains to be seen, but keeping a level head benefits all of us.

  4. Ford said. “So I think we need to be realistic about what we’re going to need in the next 20 to 30 years. How is it possible that foresight is greater here than at any other major construction project? Look at Wonderworld now the road construction is late. Look at the road for the new high school the construction once again is late. How about Rio Vista the road construction hasn’t even begun. But heck if a sweet new building and office space at $89 mil. will justify the means 20-30 years from now…. No doubt that a new Justice Center is necessary, but where was the foresight 20-30 years ago? All three comments posted so far are valid. AS far as a knee jerk Jason council brought that upon themselves….think Target.

  5. Has anyone of our elected Commissioners thought about de-centralized county offices? Isn’t it time to take advantage of the this “electronic age” and have citizens of Hays county use the internet to do their business with the county?

  6. @Mike:

    I absolutely agree with this notion, but I have no faith that government (local or otherwise) has the technological know-how to implement a well-designed system.

    Take a look at our electric utility’s online pay system as an example. Functional? At the most basic of basic levels, perhaps. Useable? Barely.

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