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County to weigh financing building

| Wednesday, June 12, 2002

The Fayette County Commissioners Tuesday agreed to consider financing a new $3 million building for the county's Mental Health/Mental Retardation department.

The new building would unify the office, which has 68 employees spread out at three offices about one mile apart.

Commissioner Sean Cavanagh said the building may be necessary, but the funds to build it essentially will wipe out a loan pool the county intended to use to encourage water and sewer development.

The commissioners had hoped to use the $5 million fund for matching funds so that municipalities and water authorities could attract state and county money, which requires a local match.

But only two municipalities have used the fund so far.

Commissioner Vincent Vicites suggested the county agency try to arrange financing with a bank so the fund can be preserved.

The county also is eyeing part of the fund for construction of a jail annex.

MH/MR director Lisa Ferris-Kusniar said the agency has until September to arrange financing, but has to agree to build this month so it can pay the county $350,000 toward closing costs and a down payment.

If the agreement is not reached this month, the money would revert to the federal government.

"Obviously, from a management standpoint, you'd like to have all your employees under one roof," said Ferris-Kusniar.

The county now pays about $142,000 a year in rent for its existing office space, she said.

With several hirings anticipated in the near future, Ferris-Kusniar said the agency's current office space is no longer adequate.

The proposed 25,000-square-foot building would be located in the county's new business park at the site of the old county farm in South Union Township.

MH/MR assists people with mental disabilities and has a $38 million annual budget.

In other business, the board heard an update on the ongoing $3 million countywide reassessment effort.

According to public information officer Patti Hall, Dayton, Ohio-based Cole Layer Trumble is poised to meet its deadline of turning over the reassessment data to the county later this month.

The county anticipates mailing new tax notices June 27, Chief Assessor James Hercik said.

"That will hopefully give everyone 30 days (to consider whether to appeal the assessment)," he said.

Preliminary figures indicate the county's tax rate will decrease to 2.75 mills from its current rate of 12.33, Hall said.

The county cannot reap a windfall from the switch to the new rate system. The county and municipalities are capped at a 5 percent tax increase at the switchover, while school districts can raise taxes 10 percent.

"If the value is what you think you could sell your property for, then it's fair. If they are not satisfied, there is one thing to do, and that's to file an appeal," said Hall.

The county has been training five separate assessment appeal boards to hear the anticipated rush of appeals by October.

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