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County looking to shed some office space, property

Ongoing efforts to “right-size” county’s assets has saved $614,837 annually.

Interested in buying a house in Hawkinsville, Georgia? Butler County officials want someone to take it off their hands.

The Georgia home is one of more than 500 properties the county owns, according to a Journal-News analysis of property records.

Many of the properties under the ownership name “Butler County” are for roads and right-of-way, parcels owned by the land bank and MetroParks.

The county owns or leases 156 properties with a total replacement value of $510.8 million, according to records maintained by the county’s insurance company. The county’s estimated premium and deductible payment for its property/auto/liability insurance is $825,953 for next year.

The county has saved $614,837 annually by vacating some leased space and bargaining down rents over the past several years as part of ongoing efforts to “right-size” its assets, said Randy Quisenberry, asset and purchasing director for the county.

“With efficiencies in government and right-sizing staffing in all the departments in the last few years we’ve actually vacated some buildings,” he said, noting the donation of the former Job and Family Services building in Middletown to Cincinnati State and vacating Children Services’ family visitation center since it contracted services with the Children’s Diagnostic Center.

“The emphasis has been on reducing the amount of land, buildings, facilities that the county’s owned, ” Quisenberry said.

Missing under the owner listing of “Butler County” is the Government Services Center and several other prominent buildings, because the deeds can be entered differently, according to Julie Joyce-Smith, real estate manager in the auditor’s office.

The Government Services Center, which houses many of the county offices, is listed under “Board of County Commissioners” along with 46 other properties. It is valued at $23 million on the auditor’s website, but it’s replacement value under the county’s insurance plan is $65 million. Likewise the jail, filed under the same listing as the Government Services Center, is valued at $24.7 million but the replacement value is almost $58 million.

Buying property for future development

Some communities, with an eye on their long term master plans for things like parks and redevelopment, will purchase properties as they come on the market. The city of Mason bought a house downtown five years ago for $72,000 because it was located in a downtown redevelopment area.

Bob Leventry, director of Butler County’s water and sewer department, said he has made preemptive purchases in the past but it is not something he does often.

“We have done that where there are properties that have value for us in terms facility for the future,” he said.

Warren County Engineer Greg Wilkens said he rarely buys land for road projects “speculatively.”

“On pretty rare occasions, the property has got to be, we almost have to know we’ve secured funding and I know it’s going to be a project,” Wilkens said. “We will not do it speculatively because a lot of the properties we buy are only partial parcels, they are just enough for right-of-way. A lot of times to buy the parcel ahead of time doesn’t make sense, unless we know it’s going to be a full take when we do the road project.”

So why a house in Georgia?

As for the county’s purchase of a home in Georgia, Chuck Demidovich, director of the county’s Care Facility, says it’s a unique story.

An elderly woman moved to Butler County to live with her daughter, and three years later she was admitted to the care facility but denied Medicaid because she still owned her Georgia home.

When her nursing home bill reached about $50,000, Demidovich said a deal was cut to buy the house so the woman would qualify for aid and the county got about $40,000 of her bill paid. Under Ohio law, nursing homes are supposed to take people’s property when they enter a facility.

“It’s a strange thing,” Demidovich said. “The thing is the law says I’m supposed to collect these people’s property. I really don’t want to do that and this is an exact example why. If I get somebody’s house that nobody wants, I might as well become a land bank. “

The county paid $18,000 for the Georgia home, and Demidovich said he can’t find anyone to buy it. The commissioners recently approved putting the home out for bids. The county is selling it for $8,000, according to Quisenberry.

Investigation by the Journal-News shows the county also owns a duplex home in Middletown. This property is a group home used by the Board of Developmental Disabilities, and the commissioners approved deeding it over to that agency in February, Quisenberry said.

Plans to relocate some county offices

Several years ago the county commissioned a facilities study that showed 25 percent to 40 percent of the county buildings were unused or underutilized.

Among the plans being considered is to co-locate the auditor, recorder and treasurer under one roof, because many times a resident will need services from all three. Offices for the auditor and recorder are at 130 High St., while offices for the county treasurer are at the Government Services Center.

Quisenberry said they are starting to revisit how they are using their spaces and how to maximize efficiencies.

“We have some planning, it is very, very preliminary planning,” Quisenberry said. “We are starting to dust those plans off and revisit them now that things as far as the budget have improved dramatically over the last three or four years.”