This past Tuesday, the Monroe County Council discussed a request for major capital improvements to Monroe County’s facilities for youth services, including the Binkley House Youth Shelter (located at 615 S Adams St).
Back in February of 2017, the County Commissioners GSD Contract in partnership with the architecture and design firm RQAW to review existing facilities and recommend a plan for renovation and expansion based on the analysis of current and future needs.
The report from the consultants was received in July 2017, and provides an extensive review of the needs of the programs, condition of existing facilities, and proposed combination of renovation and new facilities. Major recommendations include:
- Demolition of an old house that is currently used for a few offices and storage, and whose maintenance costs have become unsustainable (I included a picture of the house above).
Additional parking along South Adams St, including improvements to allow delivery truck access, and a nature path and pavilion outside.
- Upgrades to the Binkley House Shelter portion of the facility, including paint, carpet, restroom upgrades, better separation of recreational from study spaces, more storage for youth belongings, and a walk-in freezer to allow more bulk purchasing. The shelter currently serves up to 15 youth; there are no plans to increase this capacity.
- New large multi-purpose space that can be used as a gym, classroom, group meeting room, space to take youth out of stressful situations, etc.
- Upgrades to the Administrative wing of the facility, including creation of small conference/meeting rooms, better waiting areas, secure file storage, additional office space, and public restrooms.
- Furnishings, including office furniture and furniture for the shelter.
The Feasibility Study (Exhibit A) includes a description and rationale for all of the recommended upgrades, demolition, and new construction.
Last week, the County Commissioners approved a follow-on contract with RQAW for approximately $190K to provide detailed architectural design documents for the project. These documents would then be used to solicit bids for the demolition and construction work. This contract is subject to appropriation of funds by the County Council; the Council will consider this request at our regular meeting on March 13th.
The total cost estimate for the recommended facilities range from $2.9M and $3.2M. As per our role in the process, the County Council spent most of our time discussing potential sources of funds for the project. Options include:
- One-time funds (in the Juvenile Services Non-Revering Fund) of around $1.1M saved from excess property taxes collected for child welfare at the time the State took over child welfare funding. The County Council earmarked this money to be spent on juvenile-related services and initiatives.
- $1.7M in the County Per Diems fund, which consists of money paid by the State to the County for court-ordered and Department of Child Services (DCS) placements.
- One-time funds (in the Juvenile COIT Rainy Day fund) of $164K from past distributions of the juvenile county option income tax from the State.
- Funds in the Location Income Tax Special Purpose (formerly known as the Juvenile COIT) could potentially be used for the furnishings (not bricks and mortar construction) component of the project.
- Future general obligation bond (paid for by a property tax rate).
It appears that a large proportion of the project (if not all of it) could be paid for out of cash (in the above funds). However, there is also concern among some (including me, along with the director of Monroe County’s Youth Services department) that it would be prudent to hold back some cash reserves, particularly in light of the turmoil and chronic underfunding in the State Department of Child Services. One option would be to pay for a majority of the $3M out of cash savings, and the rest from bond issue.
The County Council will continue this discussion at our regular meeting on March 13, 2018, at 5:30PM.