Butler County has a capital improvement budget of $5 million and $11.8 million in funding requests

“This investment has significantly moved the needle in managing facilities, buildings and business operations,” Boyko told the Journal-News. “I use several models to report the return on investment of the financial commitment the board has made for the capital investment.”

Historically, commissioners approved capital projects one by one and never adopted them as an official plan. Commissioners Don Dixon and TC Rogers said they agreed with the 67 projects Boyko recommended for the $5 million capital budget. Commissioner Cindy Carpenter said she wanted a working session to find out more about the projects.

After many years of having to postpone projects due to financial issues, Dixon said the money invested recently “takes them up a notch or two” in terms of the condition of their assets.

“I don’t think you’ll ever be in great shape with computing as fast as this technology is changing, it’s mind-boggling,” Dixon told the Journal-News. “But it puts us in a safe zone, our buildings are okay, none of them are at risk of being condemned or collapsing, they’re in pretty good condition. They need it here and there, but in overall we have a nice office and building stock, that will kick it up a notch or two.

The biggest ticket is $1.3 million for Phase 2 of the Historic Butler County Courthouse Restoration Project, with the first two phases of the $4.6 million project expected to at least begin this year. Commissioners approved a $1.65 million contract – including contingencies – with NR Lee Construction in January to replace roofing systems, namely the slate roof and adjoining gutter systems, flat roofs and plumbing and chimney repairs.

Chris Hacker, director of assets, purchasing and projects for the county, said work has yet to begin on the exterior due to huge supply chain issues related to COVID-19.

“The slate tile for the roof isn’t installed yet, that’s all right now, the wait times are so long,” Hacker said, adding that people will hopefully see scaffolding popping up next month.

Last year, the county spent $75,000 of the capital improvement budget for an architect to draw up restoration plans for the 132-year-old courthouse in downtown Hamilton. The essential repairs project at the courthouse was supposed to be spread over three years, but the first phase and hopefully parts of phase 2 should be completed this year.

To explore$1.65M Restoration Contract Awarded to Historic Butler County Courthouse

“It could start this year,” Hacker said. “The good thing about phase 2 as it has been proposed is that there is more interior work that could be done during the winter. Whereas this one is almost exclusively roof and exterior.

The county paid $18,500 two years ago to conduct an extensive study of what is needed to shore up the iconic structure. The plan recommended spending approximately $1.5 million over three years on the following:

  • Phase 1: Critical winter stabilization and restoration of basement, porch and mansard (curved) roof
  • Phase 2: Restore stone, brick and windows inside and out and replace remaining stairs
  • Phase 3: Terra cotta repairs to the clock tower and remaining roof systems

Carpenter told the Journal-News that she wished they had committed to spending more on the monument.

“Unless we pony up and do more than one project at a time, we’re not going to finish the 140 to 150 year old courthouse,” Carpenter said. “It can’t be like we have a new property and just fix things as we go, that’s not the type of building it’s about.”

Another large project that will likely require years of capital improvement funds is the massive space utilization study. The value of all county buildings is over $477 million, and Dixon estimated that 10-15% of county space could be eliminated by consolidating offices and making other strategic moves.

The commissioners put the project up for auction last summer and Boyko said the commissioners could approve a contract within the next two weeks. She entered $145,000 into the study’s capital plan. Whatever recommendations may arise from the study, it will likely require capital funding to achieve them.

In addition to capital funding, the commissioners have nearly $75 million in U.S. federal Rescue Plan Act money to spend.

Commissioners contacted the entire county asking people to submit ideas for spending the money. They held working sessions with numerous representatives of other governments, social service agencies and others who are requesting a total of $143.7 million.

The commissioners haven’t made a decision yet, but Boyko recommends that they spend $3.1 million of that money on multiple projects. If the commissioners agree, $1.5 million could be spent to replace the potholed road leading to the juvenile justice center and developmental disabilities building near Fair Avenue in Hamilton. Boyko earmarked an additional $1 million to repair damaged roads at the county fairgrounds.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the Butler County Emergency Management Agency and three health departments have used the fairgrounds to house drive-thru COVID-19 testing and vaccination clinics. It also served as a distribution site for all kinds of personal protective equipment.

EMA Director Matt Haverkos originally asked the commissioners for $2 million in special federal grants for community development to address the COVID-19 pandemic. The curators have discussed but not yet funded the project.

The final stipend is approximately $650,000 to make various repairs to the jail. Carpenter was reluctant to spend ARPA funds on these projects.

“It’s a strategy to use ARPA funds as a slush fund to pay for what are obviously county operational costs,” Carpenter said. “To do this in the face of communities recovering from the pandemic is outrageous and I will fight against this.”

The three commissioners told the Journal-News they were ready for a working session to work out how to spend the windfall.

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