County board moves closer to vote that could spend millions on buildings
WTIP file photo

County board moves closer to vote that could spend millions on buildings

Cook County officials are moving closer to voting on a plan that could spend nearly $30 million over the next several years updating buildings and other property it owns.

The commissioners are expected to discuss the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) throughout July and potentially vote on the matter later this month or in early August, according to Cook County Administrator James Joerke.

Over the next five years, the county anticipates spending between $13.4 million and $30 million to upgrade building systems that are nearing or have exceeded their expected lifetimes, according to county officials. If approved, the county would essentially take out loans, most often referred to as bonds in county documents, to pay for the facility upgrades and changes, according to preliminary reports. The county has also applied to the state for a significant sum, some $8.7 million, that would come in the form of a grant from the office of Minnesota Management and Budget.

The money spent on the project would include things like water heaters and plumbing fixtures, along with updated floors, walls, and ceilings. Other plans could include repairing or replacing windows and doors, and exterior finishes on county-owned buildings. The Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) will also include plans for addressing a shortage of workspaces for deputies, garage bay space, and space for evidence processing and storage in the law enforcement center. There will also be a plan to address a shortage of office space in the courthouse.

Joerke says that the main goals in updating the CIP are to increase the reliability of building systems and to reduce long-term operating costs.

“The county has deferred building maintenance to the point that our maintenance staff are always working reactively and struggling to keep up with equipment failures. Too often we run equipment to the point of failure and pay a premium to replace it on short notice,” Joerke said. “By catching up on deferred maintenance and adopting regular equipment replacement schedules, we can operate and maintain our buildings in a more predictable and cost-effective way that will benefit county taxpayers.”

Given the extent of needed upgrades and repairs, the county expects to issue bonds to pay for the work, Joerke said during a series of open house-style meetings earlier this year and in late 2022. While interest rates have increased in recent months, the county enjoys a strong bond rating and would qualify for lower rates than a local government with more debt and a weaker cash position, according to Joerke. The county has also been putting levy dollars into a capital improvement fund, he added, the balance of which was around $592,000 at the end of 2022. The amount that the county ultimately will need to finance will depend on the final scope of the CIP and will be determined once the organization updates its financial management plan this spring.

WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs spoke recently with Joerke about the CIP timeline for July and moving toward August. Other topics discussed include analyzing some of the accomplishments that local government has achieved during Joerke’s time as the county administrator, a timeline that dates back to September 2020. Listen to the full conversation in the audio below.