Officials seek additional answers for COA’s rehab plan in Marion

REED CITY — Members of the Osceola County Board of Commissioners still aren’t sold on a Commission on Aging plan to spend $286,386 to rehabilitate a building to serve as a meal and activities site for seniors in Marion.

For the second time in as many weeks, COA Director Scott Schryer was directed on Tuesday, Oct. 18, by Osceola County commissioners to return for the next Committee of the Whole meeting to allow more time to look for possible grants to defray some of the costs from proposed bids to lower the sticker shock. Commissioners also would like to have Landmark Contracting present at its next meeting.

Schryer has told county officials there is nearly $500,000 in the COA’s fund balance that would pay for the project and still have funds available in case any problems financial problems arise. The project’s price tag is around $100,000 more than Schryer had initially estimated.

During nearly 40 minutes of discussion, Schryer told officials he found two possible grants available, however one would have to be written by the Village of Marion, and the other would be for interior products.

Officials suggested scaling back the project, such as determining if they could go with wood rather than a non-slide ramp for the handicap accessible entrance, taking off the weather covering for that entrance or cutting an option to replace the roof, on top of the $286,386.

“If we wait five or six years on the roof, there could be grants to cover that,” board chair Larry Emig said. “However, we come back to where we are at right now with this proposal.”

As he had at the Wednesday, Oct. 15, meeting, Schryer told the board his initial prediction on the cost of the project was wrong.

“We’ve had this building since April, and since then Landmark has been telling us that it would be around $320,000,” he said. “We’ve done the due diligence on the project.

“I hear you talking about cutting things out of the project, the entrance and the roof. I’ve cut the bells and whistles months ago. I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t.”

Schryer and officials agreed the project couldn’t be compared to recent projects done by the county, such as the EMS station in Tustin or the foyer project at the sheriff’s office.

“Police and EMS, these are 24/7 services for all ages,” said commissioner Alan Tiedt. “You have a locked variant you are serving, and to put $300,000 in a locked area in one quadrant in the county, that’s pretty hard to justify for 40 people. It is a hard swallow from our standpoint.”

Tiedt also suggested Schryer look into grants from the Osceola County Community Foundation.

“It’s just a large amount of money to try to swallow,” commissioner Jack Nehmer said during discussion. “I don’t have any problem with trying to do a service in Marion. I just wish there was more alternatives. I think maybe there will be with the Foundation and some of the other things that can be applied for, and maybe Dan (Massey) can run across some things.”

Schryer implored board members that action needed to be taken soon.

“We need to do something soon before the weather gets bad,” he said. “If we come back in the spring, it’s only going to cost more.”

Despite the cost of the proposal, Commissioner Mark Gregory said the project will keep the COA’s presence in that area.

“I wish the costs were not what they are, but they are,” he said. “Certainly, knowing from other projects that we have done recently, how are we going to do something up there for less than this?

“It’s more money than I want to spend. I wish it was Scott’s original number, because that’s what we wanted, but it’s not. Basically, we’re at a crossroads: either we put money into this building and provide senior services in Marion or we have to stop and go back and think of something different. What is that different? A different location? A different building? We already have $41,000 into this building. Can we sell it back and get our $41,000 out of it? Probably not. So, either we didn’t do our homework when we started this project or we need to follow through.”

Schryer asked board members if the same conversation would be taking place if they were talking about Reed City instead of Marion.

“There is a stigma about the Marion area, that it is a poorer area and lesser population,” he said. “I don’t look at that stuff. I am here to serve the seniors. I could care less where the money is. I have populations in four corners in the county.

“When I got there, we weren’t in Marion at all. We would pop in and pop out. Statistically, it’s one of the best bases we have. There are more in Marion than in Tustin and all of our events are in Tustin. I understand what you are looking at, and that’s why you’re here to look at those things. You have me here to run your department, to tell you what I feel is best moving the mission forward for the population we serve.”

Emig noted no decision had been made and board members needed more time.

“I think we have potential yet with this project,” he said. “We talked about doing the grants, and that needs to be continued to be pursued. Scott doesn’t want to compromise the safety of the clients. But what’s the middle of the road on some of these things? Can we do something different? How much can the grants help? If we are able to take off some, it might be more enticing, more reasonable.

“We have a plan, we have to tweak it yet,” Emig added. “We have to see if those things have an impact on costs itself. We owe it to ourselves for this project to move forward. It’s not a lost cause, there’s just more things to look at, what can be more cost efficient.”

Commissioner Roger Elkins suggested board members began this process wrong, by starting out with a building and going from there, rather than getting the purchase and rehabilitation costs up front.

“The assumptions on costs turned out not to be true,” Elkins said. “I think we need to be prepared to look at some other things. What can be spent for these dollars? Is this really the best use of funds?

“I agree we need a presence there, but there are additional things that we can look at. Maybe we take a loss on it and walk away. If the contractor comes in and cuts off $20,000 here and $10,000 there, that’s not going to change the way I look at it.”