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Lewis legislators narrowly approve office building project

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LOWVILLE — Lewis County legislators on Wednesday narrowly approved the long-discussed office building project.

Lawmakers voted 6-4 to go out to bid on a two-story, 45,000-square-foot building on outer Stowe Street, with Legislators Philip C. Hathway, R-Harrisville; Charles R. Fanning, R-Copenhagen; Paul M. Stanford, D-Watson, and John O. Boyd, D-New Bremen, opposed.

“I just can’t support doing this,” Mr. Hathway said of the estimated $11 million project. “I just think taxpayers are overwhelmed.”

Mr. Fanning said the state and federal governments already engage in plenty of deficit spending.

“Are we putting ourselves in the same boat?” he said.

Project supporters suggested that putting up a new building would be the best long-term move by eliminating any lease-related constraints, consolidating county offices into a few major complexes rather than scattering them all over the village and using $4.5 million to $5 million in state Department of Social Services funding that would not be available for nonconstruction options.

However, county officials don’t expect significant savings from eliminating rent, since a new building would increase maintenance costs.

“We are here to make decisions for the county of Lewis for the long haul,” said Legislator Richard C. Lucas, R-Barnes Corners.

“Either way, the taxpayers will pay for this,” said Legislature Chairman Michael A. Tabolt, R-Croghan.

Mr. Tabolt said he would rather hand the next generation a new building than a bunch of lease receipts and, possibly, remodeled buildings that don’t really fit county space needs.

Buildings and Grounds Committee Chairman Jack T. Bush, R-Brantingham, also noted the roughly $800,000 spent on project design of the project over the past few years.

“If we don’t go down this path, we’re just throwing that money away,” he said.

Lawmakers still could back away from the project if construction bids come in too high, Mr. Bush said.

Before the building decision, legislators voted 10-0 to rent space for the next couple of years in the Lowville Commons on South State Street for the Board of Elections and Office for the Aging and at the LeRoy Nichols Building at the Lewis County Fairgrounds for highway and solid waste administration.

Those offices now are housed in the former St. Peter’s Catholic School on Shady Avenue. However, the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services is moving forward with plans to lease and eventually buy that building.

The projected annual rent would be a little less than the $70,000 now paid for those offices in the former school, according to Mr. Bush.

Some legislators apparently were eyeing the purchase of the Commons as an alternative to new construction. However, a proposal that would have added a purchase option to the lease agreement failed by a 5-5 vote, with only Mr. Boyd, Mr. Stanford, Mr. Fanning, Mr. Hathway and Legislator William J. Burke, R-West Lowville, in favor. Six votes are needed on the 10-member Legislature.

Right after the legislators meeting, the Buildings and Grounds Committee met with village and town representatives.

Village Municipal Board Chairman Rick L. Nortz said the limits on water allocations and water pressure were adequate for the project and should not affect the plans.

“Our concern is primarily on the sewer side,” he said.

Except for some newer pipes on outer Stowe Street near the county jail, the street’s sewer pipes are original and have never had reconstruction.

To verify their condition, Bernier, Carr & Associates, Watertown, is seeking proposals to inspect the pipes with a video camera, with grant funding possible for any needed repair work.

County officials plan to ask the state Department of Transportation to conduct a traffic study on Stowe Street, as well as nearby roads that may be used as alternative routes to the building.

An engineering study completed in 2008 determined repairs to the street would cost more than $600,000.

Though the village board has not discussed specific requests for financial assistance from the county, Trustee Joseph G. Beagle said he would be “content with the county picking up 75 percent” of those costs.

“If we don’t build the building, what are the issues you will have to address?” Mr. Burke asked.

“The same ones,” Mayor Donna M. Smith answered.

However, she noted that a new county building would add to the already large amount of tax-exempt properties in the village.

“I feel the village is subsidizing the county,” Mr. Beagle said.

“Unfortunately, we don’t get windmill money. We don’t get sales tax revenue,” Mrs. Smith said. “We rely just on our taxpayers.”

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