CLAY COUNTY — While discussion on the future of the Clay County Annex is crawling forward, no decision date on what to do has been released.
The most recent public discussion on the building was had by commissioners Aug. 12, during their regular session in the County Administration Building on the Liberty Square. Commissioners reviewed repairs needed to bring the current Annex, at 1901 NE 48th St. in Kansas City, into good working order.
Items on the multiple-page list include repair of water damage, a leaky roof, inadequate parking, faulty plumbing and heating and cooling units.
The list of items, generated by county staff at Presiding Commissioner Jerry Nolte’s request, has not been made public as a representative from the county’s legal team said the document had not been reviewed so an opinion could not be given at the Aug. 12 meeting. Nolte asked that a written legal opinion on the matter be given, which sparked contention from Eastern Commissioner Luann Ridgeway. She said Nolte publicly criticizes the commission for costs associated with legal fees but is simultaneously generating costs to the county by requests such as the one made about the annex repair list.
In previous Courier-Tribune interviews, Ridgeway said Nolte is “directly responsible for thousands of dollars in legal fees” such as needing separate legal representation in the lawsuit brought against the commission by the sheriff.
“This is another example,” she said of Nolte’s request for written opinion on whether the Annex repairs list should be open to the public.
As of Tuesday, Aug. 20, Nolte said he has yet to see the written legal opinion on the matter.
Nolte said regular maintenance of the Annex has been deferred for years, adding issues like a leaky roof and water damage must be repaired regardless of whether the county decides to expand the Annex at its current location or go with another option.
Rather than purchase property and build an a new Annex in another location as other commissioners want, Nolte said the current property should be repaired and expanded to accommodate the needs of a growing Clay County.“It is time that we took time and do the proper maintenance on this building,” he said.
Lack of upkeep
Some Clay County residents question why critical needs like water damage and a bad roof have yet to be repaired at the Annex.
County resident and Belvoir Winery proprietor Jesse Leimkuehler attended the Aug. 12 commission session and asked who or what department is in charge of facilities maintenance.
Nolte’s answer of the Facilities Department drew a rebuttal from Ridgeway, who said maintenance issues were inherited by current facilities employees and the current commission, adding there have been upward of 13 different directorships overseeing the Annex since its construction that had not addressed needs.
County Assessor Cathy Rinehart, who has office operations in the Annex, said there has been only three facility managers through the years. Rinehart added that she doesn’t think the public is laying blame on one person.
“Nobody is picking on anybody. The building has not been maintained as it should have been,” she said. “... For several years, eight years that I’m jolly well aware of, there was no money to fix anything. We were putting Band-Aids on open arteries.”
Nolte said ultimately the blame lies with commissioners as they are the top officials elected to run the county.
Leimkuehler said, as a business owner himself, he doesn’t understand how regular upkeep has been skipped for years, adding crafting a list of needed repair priorities and potential costs is “not rocket science.”
Nolte said he too is dismayed that a list of items and potential costs are only now being discussed when there have been upward of 16 inspections related to security needs of county facilities over the years. Nolte added a space study done in recent years provided direction on what was needed at county facilities and he would like to see staff craft a reasonable action plan of priorities including a work timeline to be presented to commissioners.
Both Ridgeway and Western Commissioner Gene Owen agree with Nolte that major repairs of the Annex are needed. Owen said called major repair items like a new roof a “must.”
“Even if we get a new Annex, that’s two years off, so that needs done,” he said.
Ridgeway said repairs of the Annex are needed but there are also needs at other county facilities like the historic Administration Building. Needed funds for “seriously deferred maintenance” repairs, she said, were not available until commissioners entered into the certificates of participation process last year where the county took on nearly $50 million in debt.