Before getting down to a serious discussion of needed repairs to county buildings and capital improvement projects that have been waiting for action, Hendry County commissioners disposed of a noncontroversial matter first at a special meeting June 22.
In a pair of 4-0 votes, they assented to a change order adding $942 to the overall $2.3 million cost of the LaBelle Airport terminal building and then to authorizing County Administrator Charles Chapman to execute any future changes costing less than $10,000. Public Works Director Shane Parker said staff requested the addition of two hose bibs to service the exterior of the terminal, which will require Florida Department of Transportation approval that he noted is expected based on their conversations. If for some reason it’s not approved, he said, the cost would be paid out of the airport’s budget. Construction is being done under a contract with O-A-K/Florida Inc. of Fort Myers, with AECOM Technical Services Inc. of Tampa as project engineer.
The second action was taken to avoid construction delays caused by any other needed changes in any projects because the board will not meet again until July 24. Commissioner Emma Byrd was listening in via telephone, but could not vote.
The commissioners then had a very long discussion concerning their 2017-18 capital improvement schedule, which includes several large projects they’ve been talking about but have not prioritized plans for because of a lack of available financing and because of the continuing impact of Hurricane Irma on Hendry’s finances.
On the schedule are: $40,000 in repairs to the Hendry County Sheriff’s Office, including air conditioners plus courthouse security measures; $480,000 for courthouse and other miscellaneous repairs, with $60,000 coming from sources other than county taxpayers’ funds; $500,000 for Historic Courthouse work, all from a grant; $70,000 for the Health Department building in LaBelle; $10,000 for the library; $100,000 for the Clewiston sub-office building; $10,000 for the Harlem Civic Center; and $250,000 for the Dallas B. Townsend Agricultural Building, all from a grant. The total amount is $1.46 million, with $810,000 coming from grants or other sources.
According to the staff’s Capital Needs Analysis, those account for a little more than a quarter of the total costs the county faces for bringing its facilities to a better functional and safety level. Deputy County Administrator Jennifer Davis ran through the list.
After recent discussions of work needed at county cemeteries, staff provided cost estimates for them: Fort Denaud Cemetery expansion phase one, $300,000; Ridgelawn and Harlem cemeteries, $100,000; and overall cemetery landscaping and renovations, $100,000. Other items cited in the analysis are: $2 million for the Historic Courthouse exterior; $900,000 for Administration Courthouse facade work and $200,000 for long-term courthouse security; $300,000 for the courthouse parking lot and expansion; $350,000 for jail projects, including roof work, interior repairs, plumbing fixture replacements, administrative wing repairs and an LP gas motor for a fire pump; and $50,000 for Clewiston sub-office work. The total is $4.3 million, but $300,000 is available from the budget for the courthouse facade, so the county is looking at $4 million worth of needs.
Ms. Davis explained: “These are all estimates; of course, we feel like they’re close for conversation purposes, but once you all make a decision on how you want to proceed, all these numbers would be firmed up ... and everything would have to come back before you before it was approved.”
Mr. Chapman wanted to clarify, about the financing that will be sought: “What we’ll be looking at is not a bond, where we take out a lump sum and we’re paying back interest on that lump sum. We’ll get a line of credit up to a certain amount, and you only pay for that which you draw down, plus interest.”
After staff presented voluminous information about all the projects and needs, County Board Chairman Mitchell Wills summarized, “We’re to the point now where we just need to come together and let’s fix these facilities and get them to where they need to be.”
The board then passed several motions by unanimous votes. The first directed the county engineer to move forward with a guaranteed maximum contract price of some $265,000 for the east courthouse facade repairs. Next, commissioners authorized Administrator Chapman to approach financial institutions and price out a line of credit of up to about $6 million. After their discussions, commissioners and staff arrived at an estimated “total needs” price of about $5.37 million, but the board imposed no cap, instead asking Mr. Chapman to find out whether rates would vary depending on a potential total amount sought.
He, in turn, committed to work from the schedule he and staff had presented. “We will do our best to move this as aggressively as possible. My guarantee to the board is that this will be a part of the package with the budget that you move to adopt at public hearings in September.”
Chairman Wills said he wanted to make the situation clear to the public: “This isn’t a hard cost, this isn’t drilled down yet; this is just an estimate to get us moving forward to get to that place where we’ll know what the hard numbers are and then we can move from there.”