Winneshiek County Supervisor Bill Ibanez said the county's relationship with Wellington Place needs to be "reassessed."
During a discussion last Monday about the status of the county's "north building" attached to Wellington Place, Ibanez said he feels a "little offended" Wellington Place officials are "dictating" what the county does with that building.
Wellington Place, located near Freeport, is a privately run care facility that leases property from the county for $1 per year. Wellington Place Administrator Deb Vondersitt met with the Board of Supervisors in July to request the north building be taken down.
She said it doesn't meet state fire code and that Wellington Place officials have been given until May of 2013 to bring the north building into compliance, or Wellington Place will no longer be certified to be a nursing facility.
Because the sprinkler heads in the north building are more than 50 years old, state code requires they be replaced. Vondersitt said it would cost an estimated $6,835 to replace the sprinkler heads.
The north building was constructed in the 1880s and is one of the original county "poor farm" buildings.
"I'm questioning whether they deserve special status from the county ... they really are a private business. They're a non-profit, but they are still an entity in private practice competing with several other (nursing) homes in the area," Ibanez said.
Supervisor John Logsdon, the supervisors' liaison to Wellington Place, said the care facility isn't "demanding" anything.
"It was a request, they know the decision rests on the Board of Supervisors' shoulders," he said.
Logsdon said the north building doesn't comply with the Wellington Place "mission statement."
"It's a request to make their facility more desirable," he said.
He said it costs about $19,000 a year to heat and maintain the north building. That expense is paid by Wellington Place as part of its lease agreement with the county.
Logsdon said he couldn't think of an alternative use for the building that wouldn't be "totally cost- prohibitive" and still be a good fit with Wellington Place. He said it would cost more than $100,000 to make the building handicapped accessible with an elevator.
Logsdon said the north building is assessed at $281,000, but since it's county owned, no property taxes are paid on it. He said the $281,000 is not the building's true value, but what it would cost to replace it.
Ibanez said tearing down the north building would cost the county about $370,000 - the value of the building plus the estimated $90,000 it would cost to demolish it. The supervisor said it wouldn't be cost prohibitive to "mothball" the building, while another purpose is found for it. He said spending the $6,835 to bring the north building back into compliance is "minor."
Board Chairman Les Askelson said the county doesn't have a need for the north building. He said department heads were surveyed, and they all responded they have enough space.
"What is the future for that building? Renovating it would be extremely costly. (Constituents) feel there is more of a need for bridges and roads," he said.
Dean Thompson of Decorah said the fire-suppression upgrade needed in the north building is "pretty reasonable."
He also suggested one solution be separating the building from Wellington Place.
"Wellington Place can do their mission and the county could do something else," he said.
Thompson added the building hasn't been used since the early 1990s, so it could be "mothballed" for a few more years.
Kevin Lee of Freeport said the supervisors have been using "scare tactics" to make their case for tearing down the building.
Bill Green of Castalia commented the north building is "worthless."
"It has absolutely zero value. The people I talk to are not willing to spend our tax money on fixing up a dilapidated, antiquated building that is going to cost a lot to fix and maintain ... there is no reason to be putting any money into that building," he said.
Caretaker's house bill
Green said the county was "hung with a large bill" for the demolition of the caretaker's house, also one of the original county farm buildings that was located next to Wellington Place.
In 2008, the supervisors entered a contract with county resident Sean Devine Meyer, who agreed to pay $1 for the caretaker's house. He would have dismantled the house at no cost to the county.
But after receiving a request to save the building from the Oneota Future Historic Alliance (OHFA), those plans were put on hold, and the group was given time to find an alternative use for it. OHFA was required to deposit $5,000 in a local bank account to protect the county's interests in the event the house had to be taken down.
OHFA was required to have the house placed on the National Register of Historic Places or to find someone to lease the property. When it was unsuccessful in doing either, it was required to remove it.
OHFA sought bids on the deconstruction and entered a contract with a Dubuque firm for $12,400.
When OHFA told the supervisors it only had $2,000 available toward its contractual obligation, the supervisors approved a resolution agreeing to pay the remaining $10,400 for the deconstruction.
The resolution also stated OHFA is financially responsible to Winneshiek County for the cost of taking the caretaker's house down. If OHFA pays the county $5,000 before Dec. 31, the resolution stated the county would accept that payment in full as satisfaction of the money due.
If the payment is not made, the county has a right to pursue recovery of those funds, the resolution said.
"The entire county should be compensated for the delay and removal of that building," Green said.