A member of the Lee County Board says he's frustrated by the rising cost to repair one of the county's courthouses. Ron Fedler is even suggesting that residents should be allowed to vote on future improvements.
Fedler represents Board District 1, which encompasses the northern 1/3 of Lee County. His district does not include either of the county courthouses, which are located in Keokuk and in Fort Madison.
Fedler says his constituents are telling him that they do not support the ever-increasing price tag for the ongoing work at the courthouse in Keokuk.
“When they voted, they voted without accurate information, and they are upset” said Fedler. “They think they should have a say-so in us spending all this money on the buildings and that it should be put up to a vote of them rather than just us going ahead and spending all this money every year.”
Lee County voters in May rejected a bond referendum to pay for construction of a single courthouse near the county jail. It would have replaced the existing courthouses in Keokuk and Fort Madison.
Following the vote, the county board pledged to follow the direction of the residents and repair the courthouses, starting in Keokuk.
The board awarded contracts to tuck-point the building ($311,425), to replace shingles ($186,763) and to repair a portion of the roof ($71,750), totaling $569,938, according to numbers provided by the county. That figure does not include architectural fees and the costs for Midwest Construction Consultants (MCC), which is the firm managing construction.
Since the work got underway, John Hanson with MCC has presented the county board with two change orders for the tuck-pointing work, increasing the overall cost by nearly $110,000. Hanson has said the increases are due to repairs that could not be anticipated without getting up on a lift and seeing the condition of the bricks up close.
Hanson, along with architect Edd Soenke, met with the board again this week. They told members that another change order might be needed to address the interior of the clock tower. Hanson said a cost estimate would be provided during the board’s first meeting in December.
Fedler said he recalls a previous estimate that tuck-pointing the courthouse in Keokuk could cost around $90,000. He said with the price tag at more than $400,000 and climbing, he’s worried about other repair estimates.
“They estimated that in the next five years, they would put about $1.5 million into the two courthouses,” said Fedler. “Well, if the rest of the figures are as inaccurate as the tuck-pointing, you can times that by 4 and you are talking $6 million.”
Fedler said that’s why he would support a public vote on all the proposed repairs to the courthouses in the coming years instead of taking what he describes as a piece-meal approach.
The county board has said it can approve up to $750,000 in spending for a repair project without seeking a vote of the people.
“What we are doing is spending that much and more obviously, but in increments,” said Fedler. “So when you total those increments up, it goes over what we are allowed to spend. So let’s get a total figure and then let the people vote on it with accurate information because the last vote was made without accurate information.”
Supervisor Gary Folluo said during this week's county board meeting that despite the increased costs, the repairs are still less expensive than building a $20-million courthouse.
Fedler snapped back immediately, telling Folluo the projected cost was $8.5 million, not $20 million.
“Get your facts straight,” said Fedler. “That was one of the scare tactics used ahead of the vote” on the bond referendum.
The county board will have to amend the county's budget because the repairs to the courthouse in Keokuk were not included in the current spending plan.
- $902,000 - That's roughly the amount of money the county said it started the current fiscal year with in its building maintenance fund. This fund covers all county buildings.
- $430,000 - That's about how much the county receives annually for building maintenance from a one-cent local option sales tax.
- $543,000 - The county set aside roughly this amount in its current budget for all building repairs. The budget was finalized prior to the bond referendum on the county courthouses.
- $739,000 - The latest estimate on the cost this fiscal year for repairs to the courthouse in Keokuk. That figure includes tuck-pointing the exterior and repairing the roof as well as professional fees.