The Hall County Board of Supervisors is responding to what members say would be a financial burden if expectations are that the county would pick up the tab for a relocation of the Department of Health and Human Services office.
The department recently took bids to rent a new facility in Grand Island to house its employees who are at 116 S. Pine St. and the old city hall building. The Pine Street location has been provided by the county under state statute. According to state law, counties are to maintain facilities for the administration of public assistance programs, as such facilities existed on April 1, 1983, at no cost to DHHS to occupy that space.
Rent for a new location, according to bids, would cost thousands of dollars annually. Supervisors said during a meeting Tuesday that it needs to be clear that the county wouldn’t pay for any relocation costs because DHHS is provided space that meets requirements under the statute.
“We have to let them know if they move it’s on their dime, not ours,” said Supervisor Gary Quandt.
Board members also said there has been no communication between Hall County and DHHS on a potential move, with the exception of an April 19 email.
The email was in reply to a January letter from Supervisor Chairwoman Jane Richardson and the Hall County attorney’s office asking that DHHS review office and service facilities provided by the county and determine if the department could reduce or eliminate office space due to a decrease in DHHS employees.
The response, which is signed by Cynthia Harris, an administrator with DHHS, states that the department is not able to reduce or eliminate space and an alternative site is needed.
“We have previously discussed concerns related to ADA accessibility of this building and the need to identify an alternative site,” the letter states.
Supervisors did not receive the response then, though, as it was only sent to Hall County Facilities Director Loren “Doone” Humphrey, who assumed that he was courtesy copied on the letter and didn’t forward the email on to board members.
Supervisor Scott Arnold said the county was being included in requests for proposals for a new DHHS site, asking if the county wanted to be involved in the process. That raised the question of why Hall County would be included unless it was expected that the county would be paying rent.
“It was no secret they were going out for proposals; it just seemed to us that they were expecting us to be on the hook for 5,900 square feet of space, which ends up being a couple hundred thousand dollars’ worth of rent,” Arnold said, adding that paying that would be a “budget buster” for the county.
Other board members said they were surprised that DHHS requested proposals. It wasn’t mentioned in the April 19 letter.
Interim Hall County Attorney Sarah Carstensen spoke to Harris on Monday. Carstensen said the impression she got was that DHHS thought the board wanted the department to move from Pine Street to another location, that the county didn’t have any other alternative sites available and that Humphrey should be the contact person for Hall County. Meeting ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) standards was also a concern in the Pine Street building.
A message left by The Independent with Harris was not immediately returned Tuesday afternoon.
Humphrey said improvements have been made to the building to be ADA compliant, including adding an ADA-accessible entrance on the south side of the building, a parking stall and a restroom. There is a narrow hallway, though, that would not allow adequate space for someone in a wheelchair to access the breakroom.
Supervisor Pam Lancaster said she wanted to know why the Pine Street site is not acceptable. She also said it would be financially debilitating for the county to take on paying rent at a new location.
“This is just not affordable for us in any way, shape or form,” Lancaster said, adding that the county does have alternative locations available.
Supervisors Steve Schuppan and Arnold didn’t want other space as a possible option on the table.
“I don’t want to open the door to that additional space as long as we feel like we are meeting our requirements as per statute of 1983,” Schuppan said.
The board approved communicating with DHHS, including sending a letter signed by Richardson, stating that the building at 116 S. Pine St. meets the requirements under state statute and that the county has no intention of relocating DHHS to another location. Any relocation from South Pine would sever the county’s obligation.