County government department heads made sales pitches Tuesday as to why their offices deserve — and need — more space. They addressed the Boone County Space Needs Task Force, which was touring offices in the Roger B. Wilson Government Center, the Boone County Courthouse and the Johnson Building.
One of those department heads was Circuit Clerk Cheryl Whitmarsh, who described her office’s struggle to find space to store its case files.“There is a little space in our bathroom, and I thought, ‘Hey, maybe we can use this,’” Whitmarsh said. “You have to use all the space that you can.”
Using a study of the county’s long-term space needs as a starting point, the 18-member citizen task force is charged with evaluating the county commission’s $15 million expansion plan. This plan includes finishing the third floor of the government center, renovating the first two floors of the center, adding two stories to the courthouse annex and razing the Johnson Building and constructing a two-story office building in its place.
The county proposes paying for this plan with a bond issue, which would be paid down through a seven-cent tax levy and would have to meet voters’ approval, likely on the April 2005 ballot.
The county commission charged the task force, which met for the first time Sept. 29, with considering lower-cost, short-term solutions that could address the county’s immediate space needs.
The county has about $2.4 million in reserves, which it could spend without voters’ approval. These funds could pay to renovate the third-floor of the government center, which would cost an estimated $1.4 million, to house the office of county prosecuting attorney Kevin Crane. This would allow Crane to add an additional attorney to handle the county’s increasing docket and would allow Whitmarsh to add the seven staff members she needs.
However, Crane told the task force that this scenario “isn’t ideal” because it would separate his staff from the courtrooms and other resources they use daily.
This short-term plan also fails to meet other space needs discussed on the tour, which include the addition of another judge in 2007. Already the judges’ law library has been partitioned into three offices, including workspace for two judges, and there isn’t room to add another.
The plan also fails to fully address space needs of county offices such as the collector, planning and building and information technology departments, or the overflowing storage facility in the Johnson Building.
David Shorr, a local attorney and the task force’s chairman, said it’s obvious that the county is in need of more space, but pledged that the task force will scrutinize these needs and the county’s proposal.
“This group is going to ask the hard questions: Can we go off site? Can the county rent space?” Shorr said. “On the tour today, these people showed that they’re not willing to accept a report that says we need to build more space.”
The next meeting of the task force hasn’t been scheduled.