Does Butler County have too much space? Leaders look to shedding buildings, moving offices

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Things to know about Butler County, including history and facts.

Butler County is considering whether it should shed some buildings and consolidate offices, and the answer will be coming soon when the commissioners award a contract for finding the most efficient use of county assets.

The commissioners recently approved requesting proposals for a property utilization study, and the bids are due Aug. 6.

“A goal would be to reduce the overall leased footprint if you will for county space,” said Chris Hacker, the county’s new director of assets, procurement and projects. “Building security is one of things we are focusing on, not just for employees but for our residents when they are visiting the county facilities.

“And then finding the synergies between work groups, economies of scale or purely just putting the functional work groups closer together to increase efficiencies and to make a better customer service experience.”

The county embarked on this project several years ago, but it stalled when former asset director Randy Quisenberry left. Commissioner Don Dixon has estimated 10% to 15% of the county’s space could be eliminated.

Discussions happened some years ago about relocating the auditor, recorder and treasurer under one roof because people often need all three of their services at once. Treasurer Nancy Nix is housed in the Government Services Center while the other two offices are in the annex building a few blocks down on High Street. The development department is also housed in the annex.

There are separate buildings for Children Services, the Juvenile Justice System, Probate and Area Courts, county engineer and the Board of Elections. The sheriff’s office also has three facilities.

The county needs many of these separate facilities and there is not room in the Government Services Center for everything.

ExploreButler County looks to optimize office spaces, with some already saving money for taxpayers

Dixon said there has been some talk of selling some assets like the annex building — downtown Hamilton real estate is hot right now due to the massive Spooky Nook project that is under construction — but he said “I don’t know that we could get everybody out of that and into the buildings we have, that is really the only building we have that has a large potential resale value.”

The study will also help the commissioners address some of the projects that have been submitted for the $75 million federal windfall from the American Rescue Plan. A couple new buildings have been suggested, like the new emergency mental health stabilization center and two new Butler Tech buildings.

“It’s been suggested that several new buildings be built but that’s a gift that keeps on giving to the taxpayers,” Dixon said. “The cheap part is getting them built, the expensive part is keeping them up. The ongoing costs are huge and then of course the more the buildings you’ve got the more employees you’ve got and that’s where you get killed.”

Dixon said he doesn’t expect new county-owned buildings to come out of the space study, “I don’t envision a large building project to go on with the county, we’ve got enough space we just have to get people in the right place.”

And exception might be new facilities for Butler County Coroner Dr. Lisa Mannix, she has been trying for years to find new space that can fit both the morgue and her administrative offices. She leases space for the morgue and is officed in the Government Services Center.

“Previous inquires for combined Coroner Office and morgue space have considered refitting of existing buildings,” Mannix wrote. “Since no suitable space was found, there are no cost proposals for renovation available at this time. New construction on county property should also be considered.”

Cost estimates have yet to be determined but she said “operational expenses of the Coroner’s Office are not expected to increase significantly over current costs once the new facility is completed.”

Aside from the ARP bonus revenue, County Administrator Judi Boyko has penciled $15 million in the tax budget for a capital reserve fund. The bulk of this money became available when the commissioners erased all general fund debt last year. Some of that money will be used to support recommendations that might come out of the study.

In this new world precipitated by the coronavirus pandemic, with many people working remotely during the height of crisis and still even now, Hacker said that factor could play a role in the study recommendation, but there are many county offices and services that require an in-person presence.