In trying times, the Geauga County administrative offices may have to wait before making their move.
In January, the board, despite pushback from Chardon, unanimously approved the hiring of Donley, Inc. as construction manager-at-risk for the project of moving the offices from Center Street in Chardon to Merritt Road in Claridon Township.
On Tuesday, the board approved to execute a master service agreement and general conditions with NV5, an engineering and consulting firm out of Solon, in the amount of nearly $584,500.
County Administrator Gerald Morgan said the county is not paying that total at this time. “The funds are being set aside to pay that over the next three years,” he said.
Most of the contract is “back-loaded,” however, when it comes to the actual construction of the new offices, Mr. Morgan said, later confirming that the county is currently just keeping the contract “alive,” as Auburn Township resident Diane Jones put it, while facing financial uncertainty due to the COVID-19 health crisis. He added that the county has the authority to cancel the contract at any time.
He said the commissioners will have to decide soon, however, whether they want to hold off on the project for a few years due to the health crisis and uncertainty around how it will affect the county’s budget.
“It’s extremely unfortunate, the times we’re in right now,” Commissioner Timothy Lennon said. “Probably this week, or maybe even the last couple of weeks, we would have been making a formal announcement as to our plans for our county administrative buildings. In light of our current situation and pending budget reductions, we’re going to have to put that out on hold for now.”
Mr. Morgan said that if the board chooses to hold off for another few years, they would at least need to find a location for the Department of Job and Family Services within three years. He said the NV5 agreement may be able to help with finding a location for the department instead of moving all of the offices if it becomes necessary.
One of the “troublesome” things about the pandemic, he said, is that the county does not know the impact it will have on their revenue for the months of March and April until June and July.
Mr. Morgan said the county can estimate where they’ll stand financially by looking at the state revenue trends, but “you could look at 15 different sets of numbers and they’re going to tell you different things.”
He noted that Ohio is down 9.5 percent in sales tax revenue for March compared to the state’s estimates, but it is only down 4.4 percent when compared to March 2019.
“This is something that we’ve all been working on hard,” Mr. Lennon said, noting that it’s been an ongoing process as long as he’s served on the board the last four years. “It’s just bad timing when it comes to this project.
“I think we’ve got to, for now, kind of shutter things down and circle the wagons,” he added. “Let’s wait and see what happens.”