Countryside site OK’d for highway shop

By JAMES KATES, Bugle Staff Writer

      Jefferson County will move ahead to purchase the former Countryside Home as a site for a new highway shop, supervisors decided Tuesday.

      The County Board voted 19-9 to authorize the purchase of the 60-acre site along County Highway W including the old county nursing home, which has been vacant since 2002. The old nursing home will be demolished, at a cost of perhaps $700,000 to $800,000.

      In its place will rise a new highway shop to replace the current shop, which was built in 1937 and rebuilt in 1950. The shop is “landlocked” on its current site along Puerner Street in Jefferson and does not have adequate room for equipment and materials storage, said County Board Chairman John Molinaro.

      A new shop will cost perhaps $16 million, Molinaro said, although plans have not been finalized. Once the county buys the Countryside site from its current owner, the Bank of McFarland, the first step will be to secure bids for demolishing the old nursing home.

      The county will pay for the new shop by issuing bonds that will be paid back over perhaps 20 years, Molinaro said.

      The new shop will house trucks, plows and other equipment, a repair shop, offices, locker rooms and a cafeteria for workers. It will include storage space for salt and tanks for mixing brine that will be used to de-ice winter roads.

      The county’s purchase of the old home is contingent on the City of Jefferson rezoning the site for industrial use.

      Supervisors have been looking at various sites for the new shop, including the old county farm property adjacent to the Countryside site.

      Supervisor Jim Mode told the board Tuesday that the board had to weigh the wisdom of putting up about $1 million to buy the Countryside site and demolish the home against the possibility of keeping the county farm and selling it for about $1.5 million in the future.

      Mode ultimately voted against the plan to purchase the Countryside site.

      In another matter, County Administrator Gary Petre outlined the 2013 budget for board members. The budget, drafted by Petre and amended by the board’s Finance Committee, includes a $120,185 increase in the tax levy, or 0.45 percent.

      The increase is the maximum allowed by state law.

      Supervisors may propose amendments to the budget, but they also must specify what to cut to pay for any additional costs. A public hearing on the budget is set for Oct. 23, and the County Board is expected to give final approval to the budget on Nov. 13.

      County property-tax revenue will account for about $26.8 million of the overall $65.8 million county budget. The remaining money comes from state aid, fees and fines, and the county sales tax of 0.5 percent.

      The county tax rate will rise slightly, to about 4.14 mills, but because properties have lost value in the current real-estate slump, the amount collected will be less than half of 1 percent higher than this year, Petre said.

      In other action, the County Board:

• Approved a resolution calling on the state to enforce sales-tax collections on online purchases. Because the county collects a 0.5 percent tax on top of the state’s 5 percent sales tax, such a move would benefit the county.

• Approved $110,000 in additional aid to Riverfront Rental LLC and Chicken’s Riverfront LLC to aid in recovery from the 2008 flood. The funds come from the federal Department of Commerce.

• Voted to lower the speed limit to 45 mph on County Highway J from the intersection with State Highway 89 eastward about half a mile, at which point it would fall to 35 mph until its intersection with Collins Road in the City of Jefferson.