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Park Rapids' old library is for sale or lease. County commissioner Don Carlson would like to see vacant buildings like it put into service before the county spends money to renovate its own spaces. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

County could utilize vacant buildings for overcrowding

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A vastly scaled down plan to reapportion Hubbard County's office space is coming before the county board today.

But at least one commissioner is questioning whether the county should be looking into leasing vacant real estate downtown to solve its overcrowding.

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The proposal, put on the agenda by county coordinator Jack Paul and estimated to cost around $2 million, would entail moving the courts and court administration to the vacant second floor of the Law Enforcement Center and shuffling some county offices into the present court administrator's area to give Social Services more room in the county office building.

With bonds at rock-bottom rates, 1.5 to 1.75 percent, Paul estimates borrowing the funds would cost taxpayers around $8 per $100,000 of property value annually.

"We could require the contractor to employ a majority of locals," Paul said.

"Not every sale is a good one," said commissioner Don Carlson. "I think we should look at cheaper ways we could go at the present time. The old library is vacant and there's another building on Main" that could be leased in the short term.

"Everyone wants space," he said of the county departments, adding that his response is, "I'm sorry but you can't all get space."

Commissioners Cal Johannsen and Greg Larson said they would likely support the new proposal.

"It's difficult," Johannsen said. "Money's really tight right now. But that $1.7 million to move the courts would solve a lot of our problems right now."

"I don't think it's going to cost that much," Larson said. "We gotta use that jail. That vacant spot is huge."

He said the present court facility and office building is now holding "twice as many people as that courthouse is designed for."

Commissioner Dick Devine refused to commit himself to any plan.

"I don't know what they're bringing back," he said. "I can't say until I see it."

Board chair Lyle Robinson could not be reached for comment.

The $2 million cost pales in comparison to the estimated $10 million price tag to accomplish each department's wish list in the initial space study plan. The plan was drafted by a Twin Cities area architectural firm. It would have entailed tearing down the old jail facility and replacing it with a two-story building that would house the county attorney and probation offices.

Under the scaled down plan, those offices would occupy, along with Environmental Services, the present judicial/court area, Paul said.

Carlson is still reluctant.

"I don't know if we can do this at this time," he said. County department heads have been told to keep expenses down, the county has had a hiring freeze all year and Carlson wonders if approving the expenditure of $2 million would send the right message to long-suffering taxpayers.

"In retrospect we may look at it and wish we'd done it, but not at the present time," Carlson said.

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