Committee calls on county to continue to support shelter project
Members of the Taylor County Executive Committee last week voted to recommend that the county board not require Taylor County Supportive Housing (TCSH) to repay grant funds used in the purchase of the shelter building.
While it will take full county board action to confirm the recommendation, the willingness to keep the project moving forward was welcome news to members of the TCSH board who attended the Nov. 10 meeting. TCSH president Jessica Mudgett said the group has already been in contact with local contractor Huotari Construction to determine what renovations are necessary and to schedule the work to be done.
The committee’s discussion on the future of the homeless shelter project was prompted from the recent county board action to stop involvement in a grant program that was being used to fund the project. The county had been serving as a conduit for a state and federal community development block grant (CDBG) for the private nonprofit group. The group is working to open a facility called Taylor House to serve the area’s homeless population and provide an opportunity for them to have a stable residence, gain/retain employment and transition into permanent housing.
Faced with cost estimates and a timeline which some on the county board felt was unrealistic given current supply-chain and availability of contractors, the county board last month voted to discontinue the grant and to repay what had been spent. Although the total grant award had been $350,000, only about $130,000 of it had been used for the purchase of a vacant multi-family home on 4th Street as well as for some administrative expenses.
The county purchased the building using the grant funds and transferred the deed to TCSH. Under a side agreement, the county has the option to go after TCSH to recover the cost of the building. This agreement was established as a protection for county taxpayers if the project did not take place.
Issues arose when the engineering study called for more than a half million dollars in renovations to the structure to meet the federal grant requirements. While additional grant funds were available the initial CDBG had a sunset date at the end of 2022 with the threat that if the project was not completed by that date any funds spent would have to be repaid.
Committee member Chuck Zenner brought the issue back to the executive committee to discuss saying he felt the county needed to continue to support the homeless shelter project calling it an important effort. Committee member Scott Mildbrand agreed and suggested that rather than asking for the group to repay the county for the money already spent, that the county tap into the Taylor County Forest land acquisition account for the funds needed to repay the state for the grant dollars spent and to not seek repayment from TCSH. This would become the county’s contribution to the project.
County board member Lester Lewis, who attended the meeting also spoke in support of this proposal suggesting the county could look at additional support for the shelter project. County finance director Larry Brandl also noted there could be other areas that the funding could come from within the county reserves.
Every time there is a timber sale in the county forest, a portion of the sale proceeds are placed into the land acquisition account. That account, which is part of the county’s overall reserves, is capped at $500,000 and can only be spent with county board approval. While it is typically used to purchase portions of land adjacent to the county forest to be added to the forest, the county has transferred funds out of that account in the past to cover the other county projects.
The full county board is expected to take up the recommendation when it meets next month. Zenner suggested TCSH develop a project plan to present to the full board with the potential of doing the work in phases to allow parts of the building to be opened and put in use while work on other areas is done as revenues allow. Committee members also suggested the availability of volunteer labor for some parts of the project to help reduce contractor costs.
Lewis cautioned that there would still be significant work that would have to be done to the entire building at one time and that they should not be overly concerned with things like a requirement to have a sprinkler system installed. He noted that there are different types of systems depending on the application. Lewis also warned that doing work in phases could increase costs simply due to the mobilization of workers.
Mudgett expressed her gratitude to the committee and noted that board action will allow them to commit with the contractor to schedule the work to begin.