One week after rejecting a request from two county officials to rescind a resolution to remodel the old hospital, the Stillwater County Commissioners took a step backwards.
In a new resolution read aloud at the regular Tuesday morning agenda meeting, the reason given for the flip was “concerns regarding the open meeting laws were discussed and questioned and whereas the the public has the right to expect government agencies to afford such reasonable opportunity for citizen participation in the operation of the agencies prior to the final decision as may be provided by law.”
Commissioner-elect Mark Crago and County Attorney Nancy Rohde had requested the commissioners rescind the original resolution last week.
Specifically, Crago cited ambiguous wording on the agenda the day the decision was announced made it impossible for the public to realize the topic at hand. Crago also said the resolution was not on the county’s website the day of the announcement which he believed was problematic as far as being in compliance with open meeting laws.
At this week’s meeting Davey said the wording used was clear to her but may not have been to everyone. She also said it was not the commission’s intent to be unclear. Davey and Commissioners Gerald Dell and Dennis Shupak all expressed their continued support of remodeling the old hospital.
“I’m not in favor of the county going into debt with bonds,” said Davey in reference to the county having the money to complete a remodel now.
Dell, who did not seek re-election and made his final agenda meeting appearance Tuesday, said his hope is that the county does still consider the old hospital.
Davey said Sweet Grass County had remodeled its old hospital for county offices and “it’s working out just fine.”
Crago and Rohde had also suggested assembling a steering committee to go forward with the project which would take some of the burden off the commissioners. Dell was not receptive to that, referring to the library steering committee that has now been working for at least three years, saying “somewhere along the lines it runs awry.”
The commissioner’s original resolution was adopted on Nov. 1 and officially designated the old hospital as the site of county offices, with the exception of the courts and law enforcement. The commissioners had approximately $3.4 million to make the renovations and would not have to go to the taxpayers for additional money.
The courts and law enforcement would have been left at the current courthouse.
The decision came after the public was presented with multiple scenarios which ranged from remodeling the old hospital and the first floor of the court house to building new facilities on a new site. The public was not presented with the option of only remodeling the old hospital.
Commissioners have defended the decision by pointing to a public meeting in 2011 about paying off the bonds for the hospital at which there was no objection to using the old hospital for office space.
In addition to the open meeting law issue, Crago objected because there was no “documented approval to move forward in this fashion” from the public and people are “very adamant” against the use of the old hospital in this way. Crago, a contractor, also felt the $3.4 million could be better spent.
THE LONG ROAD
The county has outgrown the current courthouse, with some offices already off-site. Additionally, the aging building is not ADA compliant. Four alternatives were developed through two feasibility studies over the course of nearly three years at a cost of approximately $70,000.
Four alternatives were presented during three public meetings held at the beginning of 2015, ranging from $6 million to $17 million and are as follows:
•Alternate 1: Remodeling the old hospital and the first floor of the current courthouse: $6.37 million
•Alternate 2: Remodeling the current courthouse and construction of a new law & justice facility at the courthouse: $15.32 million
•Alternate 3: Remodeling the current courthouse and construction of a new law & justice facility on a new site: $17.17 million
•Alternate 4: Completely new county facilities on a new site: $17.54 million
A public hearing was held on May 7, 2015 and the written public comment period closed on May 19, 2015. As of the close of the public comment period, no letters had been filed in the Clerk & Recorder’s Office expressing support for Alternative 1, which is the only alternative that involved the old hospital. No one spoke in favor of using the old hospital at the public hearing.