Butler County could boost capital improvement projects to $4 million this year

The Butler County commissioners have an ambitious list of capital improvements to accomplish this year that includes the first phase of the Historic Courthouse restoration and significant technology upgrades.

County Administrator Judi Boyko has given the commissioners a list of 45 projects that would cost just more than $4 million she is proposing they undertake this year. Historically the commissioners don’t sign off on projects as a whole, but approve them individually.

Boyko told the Journal-News this represents a 100% increase from previous years when about $2 million has been budgeted but rarely fully spent. Last year they approved around $1 million for capital projects.

“It may seem like a large percentage increase,” Boyko said. “But when it comes to managing several hundred million dollars in capital assets, that have been deferred in previous years, $4 million is a sufficient bridge to launch the commissioners’ more robust capital plan moving forward.”

The largest project on the list is the first of a three-year plan to restore the iconic 132-year-old courthouse in downtown Hamilton. The total cost of the project to make critical repairs is $4.6 million and this year Boyko has penciled in nearly $1.6 million. Reinforcing the crumbling sandstone and decorative details on the exterior are the first priority.

If the commissioners approve all of Sheriff Richard Jones’ projects it will cost $1.24 million, more than half is for the annual vehicle replacement plan. Chief Deputy Anthony Dwyer said the number of vehicles is kind of a moving target each year depending on what part of their large fleet needs attention.

“It’s never a set number of vehicles, it’s basically a set dollar amount and then we identify our needs, to make sure we come in under that cap,” Dwyer said.

The rest of the request is for software upgrades, some computers, partial payment on a new storage pole barn and a new fingerprint machine.

Around $2 million of the total countywide proposal is for building and property improvements, like $80,000 to fix the escalators in the Government Services Center that have been stopped almost more than moving for years and $134,000 for boilers at the Juvenile Detention Center. Another $1.2 million is for technology.

“Everywhere from maintaining our network and infrastructure to security measures, as cyber security continues to evolve and emerge as a threat to continuity of business operations,” Boyko said. “That’s about 30% of the capital proposed plan.”

ExploreButler County has $1 million in new projects possible with CARES Act money, including courtroom moves

Part of the reason the proposed investment is so large is because the commissioners erased all general fund debt last year. They now have an extra $10 million annually to spend elsewhere. They have committed to funding projects like these, as well as invest in economic development projects countywide.

The city of Hamilton was the first outside agency to receive some of the money, a $2.5 million contribution for Spooky Nook infrastructure.

Commissioner Don Dixon said he fully supports the projects Boyko has suggested.

“It’s always a matter of timing, they’ve (the projects) always been worthy, but first we had to get our fiscal house in order and make sure we were moving in the right direction to keep our budget on track,” Dixon said. “These things could have been done before but they weren’t that critical at that point in time... some of these things can’t be put off any longer.”

Commissioner T.C. Rogers said the time has come where they need to make these capital investments or bigger bills will pile up.

“If you hold off too long, whatever the component is, then you have a huge check that you have to write to fix something, a lot of times on very little notice,” Rogers said. “We’re just trying to stay ahead in the most economic way for the long run.”

When Boyko first embarked on developing a long-range capital improvement plan the office holders and various departments submitted around $8 million worth of projects. Some of those items could be considered cosmetic like new paint and carpeting. The only item like that in the plan is $9,000 for Historic Courthouse window treatments.

Commissioner Cindy Carpenter said she doesn’t want to put any of the proposed projects “on hold” but she wants to fast track hiring an architect to do a complete facilities plan to maximize the use of county facilities. That could impact future capital improvements.

“It’s part of a bigger picture, do we need that building, are we appropriately using that building, is there a better idea that’s out there,” Carpenter said. “All of those ancillary questions need to be answered before you put large amounts of money into our aging buildings.”

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