The Benton County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday approved additional financing to cover higher-than-expected costs related to the acquisition of the Fiserv building and the construction of a new health clinic.
With two of the three commissioners participating remotely as a coronavirus precaution, the board voted 3-0 to authorize borrowing or issuing bonds for up to $11 million to pay for the purchase and remodeling of the Fiserv building at 4500 SW Research Way and the construction of a new community health center at Lincoln Elementary School to replace the current clinic on the school grounds.
That figure is up $1 million from the $10 million approved by the board in January.
Most of the money – just over $7.1 million – will cover the purchase price of the 54,000-square-foot Fiserv building, which will house a number of county departments that are currently in other locations. (The county has already paid for the building out of cash on hand but is borrowing the amount to replace the depleted funds in its budget.)
Another $1.2 million will pay for the county’s share of the $3.2 million construction cost of the replacement health clinic at Lincoln Elementary. That will leave up to $2.7 million to pay for remodeling the Fiserv building.
Mary Otley, the county’s chief financial officer, told the board the additional money was needed to cover higher-than-anticipated costs to renovate the Fiserv building. She added the county still doesn’t have firm estimates of those costs, and increasing the borrowing authority provides some room for error.
The financial services firm Fiserv still occupies 60% of the building, and that area will need to be remodeled when the company decides to move out. If that happens earlier than expected, Otley noted, that would increase near-term remodeling costs.
The additional borrowing authority should be sufficient to cover that contingency as well, she said, and the total amount to be borrowed could be adjusted downward if it becomes clear the full $11 million won’t be needed. It would require another vote of the board to borrow additional money.
Otley told the board her department is still evaluating whether to take out a bank loan or issue bonds to raise the financing. That decision will be made in the next several weeks based on which option offers more favorable terms.
“It sounds like we need to remain as flexible as we can (and) I’m fine with that,” Commissioner Xan Augerot said.
“My position is we need to keep this project going forward and be ready to act at the appropriate time,” added Commissioner Pat Malone.
The commissioners also took action on Tuesday aimed at addressing potential staffing needs in the face of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, voting unanimously to clarify a county policy relating to essential and nonessential personnel.
Since the virus emerged in the region, many county employees have been working from home as much as possible, and county offices are now closed to the public. On Monday, Gov. Kate Brown ordered most Oregonians to stay home except to perform vital tasks.
What the policy change does is make it possible for Benton County officials to designate any county employee as essential personnel for purposes of performing vital functions during the outbreak, County Counsel Vance Croney explained after the meeting.
That could include tapping people to fill in for positions in the Sheriff’s Office, Health Department or other mission-critical departments that become vacant due to illness.
“The idea is to create as deep a pool of county employees as possible to allow us to function as close to normal business operations as possible,” Croney said.