Inflation delays new title office for Middletown and Monroe

Inflation has delayed the opening of Butler County Clerk of Courts Mary Swain's new title office in the Middletown area . NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

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Inflation has delayed the opening of Butler County Clerk of Courts Mary Swain's new title office in the Middletown area . NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Drivers in Middletown and Monroe will have to wait a bit longer for a title office since inflation has wreaked havoc with bids to build out the new location in the Kroger shopping center on Ohio 63 in Monroe.

The county has a new $163,200 five-year lease for a store front in the Kroger plaza for a new vehicle title office that was scheduled to open by early June. Now it is looking like the office won’t open until at least September because of inflated prices to remodel the former veterinary clinic.

Butler County Clerk of Courts Mary Swain put out requests to bid the project twice but the bids came in more than 10% over architect estimates. For the second bid the estimate was $161,000 and the only bid came in at $195,200. She told the Journal-News inflation coupled with rampant supply chain issues have meant much higher bids.

“Unfortunately our crystal ball did not tell us these things were going to happen,” Swain said.

Swain had an office in Middletown for years and was hoping to relocate the Middletown office to another location in that area of the county when the current lease expired in July 2020. Then the pandemic descended, and after the county commissioners ordered 7.4% budget cuts over two years, she abandoned the plan.

The commissioners approved rebidding the project Monday and County Administrator Judi Boyko said the new estimate is 20% higher at $195,000. By law the county cannot accept any bids that are more than 10% higher than estimates.

“I think everybody is really sharpening their pencils wanting to make sure that they are increasing based on inflationary influences but yet not increasing the cost of the estimates so much that it’s just going to be an invitation to overspend,” Boyko said.

Commissioner Don Dixon was not happy with the added expense and said they should ask the landlord to pick up more the of the tab. The lease agreement calls for the landlord to pay $35,000 of the remodeling costs.

“I would just go back to the landlord and say look this is our budget,” Dixon said. “You know we’re willing to go halfway on this extra stuff but you’re going to have to help.”

Boyko said since the lease is already signed they are stuck.

“Then this conversation is really non-productive because the lease has been signed and there’s no limits put on it, I think it should be a lesson that any lease we execute and we have to do the tenant finish we should have the option of approving what that is, and if it’s too much then we don’t do the lease,” Dixon said. “If you have to bid and bids come in higher than you can afford you’ve got to be able to get out.”

Commissioner T.C. Rogers pointed to the fact Swain’s title offices make money for the county and in his opinion as a realtor they got a good lease deal from the landlord.

“It’s got to be done and right now there’s not an office in the Middletown/Monroe area so you’re potentially, I see us losing money from that,” Rogers said.”

Swain has been sending about $1.5 million in excess title fees back to the general fund annually.

Swain’s Chief Deputy Joe Statzer said the bid process is relatively long and by the time they advertised the architect’s estimate — which they felt was high to begin with — was basically obsolete “inflation, we just can’t keep up with it, it’s jumping and rapidly.”

Swain said the $35,000 buildout their landlord gave them was very generous and they also did not have to pay rent for the first months of the lease.

Swain usually likes to locate her title offices near the state’s BMV operations because drivers usually need both services, but there is no state vehicle registration office in Monroe.

They were granted a Limited Authority Deputy Registrar designation for the new office which allows them some ability to help customers with out-of-state inspections and first-time vehicle registrations.

Swain wanted to reopen the northern office for “customer convenience” because it is a hike to get to the other three offices in Fairfield, Hamilton and West Chester Twp. where vehicle titles and passports can be obtained.

The Fairfield and West Chester title offices are the busiest, generating about 9,000 titles per month, the old Middletown location issued 3,455 and the two Hamilton locations issued 6,521 titles last month. All of the offices combined issued 500 passports in March.

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