June 29, 2016

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Dueling numbers in pitch for new digs

MEDINA — How much more would it cost taxpayers if the Medina County Board of Elections moved into a shopping plaza on Stonegate Drive?

It depends on whom you ask.

Bill Heck, the senior Republican on the board of elections, presented the request to relocate the board’s offices to a vacant building at 3800 Stonegate Drive in Medina Township at a county commissioners meeting last week.

At the Dec. 11 meeting, county Administrator Chris Jakab presented his estimates of the annual cost to operate the proposed new office.

The total — $204,944 — is nearly three times more than what Jakab said the county now pays for office space, utilities and maintenance in the county Health Department building, 4210 N. Jefferson St.

Two days later, Heck went back to the commissioners with the election board’s estimates, which were considerably different.

Heck presented a cost sheet that showed the “total current facilities cost” at $76,411 — higher than Jakab’s estimate of $70,965.

Heck projected the cost of the new building, including utilities and cleaning, at $156,906.

Using that estimate, Heck argued the 13,795-square-foot Stonegate building would be a bargain because it would provide almost three times more space than the board has now for only twice the cost.

He said the utility costs at the new building would be much lower — only $7,800 annually — because the elections board plans to install drop ceilings in areas where people work.

Jakab projected the utility costs for the new building at $36,020, compared with $6,303 now.

He said his estimate was based on the actual utility bills paid in 2006, when the Medina County District Library was relocated to the Stonegate building while the main downtown library was renovated.

Jakab conceded that his estimate might be high, but contended Heck’s numbers were too low.

“My number represents our maximum financial exposure,” Jakab said. “He’s right that it may not get to that point, but it’s not going to come down to his numbers.”

Jakab said his revised estimate for the total annual operating costs for the Stonegate building was $175,000.

“No matter whether it’s $185,000 or $205,000, it’s still going to be greater than the $70,000 we’re paying now, so it’s an issue of affordability.”

All three county commissioners have voiced concerns about the cost of the Stonegate proposal.

Heck provided commissioners with about six other possible sites but said none of them would meet the needs of the board as well as the Stonegate building.

The commissioners are facing a Jan. 9 deadline to make a decision on the board of elections’ lease at the Health Department’s North Jefferson Street facility.

“The Health Department has served us well, but quite frankly, we’ve outgrown it,” he said.

Heck said the new building would accommodate the office in ways the current building cannot.

While there are only eight or nine full-time staff members, there are between 45 and 50 people working in the office in the month or so before every election.

Heck said a bigger building also is needed to better accommodate early voting in the primary and general elections and also special elections.

“We need the space to operate because we never know what the next directive from the secretary of state will be,” Heck said.

Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com.

Loren Genson About Loren Genson

Loren Genson was The Gazette's senior reporter. From August 2012 through September 2015, she covered Brunswick city and state and national government. To contact The Gazette, call the managing editor at (330) 721-4065.