I attended the May 17, 2022 Camden County Commission meeting at 10:00 a.m.
All commissioners were present.
There were about a dozen people in the audience.
The first agenda item was a Request For Quote for the Building Bid Remodel.
There was one bid from Veregy which was formerly known as the CTS Group. This bid was for $4.7 million. You read that right. $4.7 million.
This bid is to remodel the interior and exterior of the Camden Courthouse, parts of the Justice Center, and the White House behind the courthouse where the Commission offices are located.
The representative from Veregy stated their bid is good for 10 days. He estimated they would be done with 90% to 95% of the work by the end of the year. Their plan is to remodel the White House first.
For those who haven’t been following this story, the White House was purchased by the Commission for $600,000 from Charles McElyea, the Legal Advisor to the Commission. The purchase was made without any prior inspections and it turned out the building required significant renovation. Parts of the building are still unoccupied because it requires renovation and asbestos abatement before employees can work there. It was not clear what portion of this bid is going to cover the renovations on the White House.
The courthouse itself would be closed for 8 weeks for asbestos abatement and removal. Camden County departments that operate in the courthouse would need to be relocated during that time. There is currently no plan on where those employees would work.
One of the significant parts of the remodel is a repair of the roof of the courthouse which is leaking badly. The leaking water is damaging the exterior walls of the courthouse and causing them to degrade. What makes this even worse is the fact that these walls contain a lot of asbestos and the water saturation is making the asbestos problem worse.
Commissioner Hasty said they needed to consider using ARPA federal funds to help pay for this project. (Camden County is receiving a little under $9 million in ARPA funds in 2022.)
The Treasurer stated that Camden County will be receiving the rest of its ARPA money in the fall, but she was under the impression that this project was going to be funded by a bond.
Commissioners Williams and Hasty both mentioned that they were considering paying for half of the repairs with ARPA money and the remainder with a bond.
Commissioner Williams stated that $11 million of the ARPA money has already been earmarked for sewer and water districts in Camden County. Commissioner Hasty explained that block grants are going to be made available soon for water districts and he felt that might be a better source for paying for their improvements.
A few audience members wanted to ask questions, but Commissioner Hasty refused to hear from them, stating that he was not taking questions right then. He explained to the audience that this meeting was just the Commission having a meeting to discuss the project. He later allowed people to ask questions.
There was discussion about tabling the bid so it could be examined more closely. Commissioner Williams seemed inclined to approve the bid because of the bid’s 10 day deadline.
The Veregy representative explained that the asbestos has to be removed as part of the project. They have tested the entire courthouse building for asbestos and they plan to remove it all.
Commissioner Hasty agreed with this and confirmed that all of the baseboards of the interior walls have glue that is virtually pure asbestos. It sounded pretty bad. I immediately stopped leaning the back of my head on the wall and scooted my chair forward a bit.
Richard Ross was in the audience at the meeting and he opined that until the asbestos is disturbed, it’s really not a danger to the employees.
The Veregy representative responded that the plaster is coming off of the interior walls. They will also make all of the bathrooms ADA compliant. He explained that the bid is a guaranteed maximum bid. There will be no change orders. His company is currently renovating the courthouse for Adair County.
I did a bit of sleuthing about how that project is going so far. Adair County’s courthouse was closed for the project and their offices were relocated in November 1, 2021. Adair County funded the project with a quarter cent capital improvement sales tax increase which voters approved in April of 2021. The sales tax increase was expected to generate $900,000 per year and will sunset once the expenses for the project are fully paid. The early estimates for the cost of the project were that it would cost between $3.5 million to $5 million. It is now expected to cost approximately $8 million.
Despite projections that the Adair County Courthouse would re-open in the summer of 2022, it is now slated to re-open “sometime in 2023.”
It makes you wonder about that 8 week closure estimate.
Commissioner Williams discussed the idea of getting a bond for the project. Camden County currently has an excellent credit rating. He said the Commission has avoided projects where developers wanted Camden County to provide bond money for development projects. He was concerned with that type of project funding because if the developer doesn’t follow through and complete the project, the county’s credit rating would be negatively impacted.
Former commissioner (and current candidate for presiding commissioner) Franken was also in the audience and he recommended the Commission fund the project with ARPA money instead of a countywide bond which would place a countywide tax burden on Camden County’s residents.
The Commission wanted to get an idea of how much ARPA money would be left over after all of the approved ARPA requests so they would know how much was left to pay for the Veregy bid for the courthouse renovation.
The Commission voted unanimously to accept the bid. They will decide exactly how this will be financed at a later meeting.
The next agenda item was ARPA approvals.
The Auditor provided the commissioners with a list of proposed ARPA projects. $3,071,000 of ARPA money needs to be paid this year for projects the Commission has already approved. This included $906,000 for the upgrade of Camden County’s new 911 system.
Camden County has already received $4,490,000 of the ARPA money. The rest will be coming in September.
A representative from Medical Missions For Christ was present at the meeting. She told the commissioners they had earmarked $80,000 for their renovations.
The Commission approved this ARPA project unanimously.
Mid County Fire wanted $165,000 to replace three of their first responder trucks. They did not have a representative at the meeting. Commissioner Hasty said he thinks they should buy their own trucks. This ARPA request was tabled.
The next ARPA request was from Richard Ross. He is part of the Lake Area Community Development Corporation. They presented an ARPA request to the Commission on March 22, 2002 at 10:00 a.m.
I’ve posted here a quick summary that I wrote in my post about that meeting. Ross covered a lot of this again in this meeting:
Lake Area Community Development Corporation was established in 2019 as a 501(c)(3) organization. Its objective is to assist low to moderate income individuals and families to obtain affordable housing in Camden, Miller, Morgan, and Laclede counties.
To sum up the presentation, they want to get $150,000 in ARPA seed money from each of the four counties to establish a program that would enable low to medium income applicants to gain access to USDA loans to purchase homes. These USDA loans can extend out to 38 years and would currently offer a family of four with an income of $39,000 up to $310,000 as long as their monthly bills are low. USDA would pay the associated costs of the loan.
LACDC plan to partner with the Lake of the Ozarks Council of Local Governments (LOCLG) to establish a list of pre-approved home buyers that could then be used to entice regional home builders to come here and construct large scale affordable housing.
At this May 17 meeting, Richard Ross told the Commission they plan to hire a director and a loan packager to start approving applicants for these USDA loans. They were hoping to get funding from each of the four counties (Laclede, Miller, Morgan, and Camden), but the other counties were waiting to see what Camden County wanted to contribute. He said that this organization could involve Section 8 housing, but stressed that there is no requirement for Section 8 housing to be part of their operation.
Ross asked the Commission for $250,000 in seed money to hire the two employees and get the project started. I’m not sure why the requested amount had increased so much from the $150,000 requested at the previous meeting.
Commissioner Williams liked the idea. Commissioner Gohagan did not like it because the $250,000 doesn’t guarantee that any of the affordable housing will actually be built. Ross acknowledged this, but he said that establishing this operation would give locals access to the USDA loans. According to Ross, 5,000 homes are needed in this area. The loans can fund up to $325,000 for a home. A family of four making $54,000 could qualify for that amount with a USDA loan. There is no maximum per county for the amount of USDA loans that can be processed.
A long discussion followed which I won’t describe in detail, but by the end of it, Commissioner Gohagan hadn’t been convinced it was a worthwhile use of $250,000. Commissioner Hasty felt that Brian Yansen from LOCLG could administer this program and make it work.
Commissioner Williams made a motion to approve it and Commissioner Hasty seconded it. The $250,000 in ARPA to the Lake Area CDC was approved 2-1 with Gohagan voting against it.
The final agenda item was for the BSA Contract.
This contract will provide training to Road and Bridge regarding the management of FEMA money. The cost of the training will be $6,895.
This was approved unanimously.
And that was that.
After the meeting, I spoke with Richard Ross about the Lake Area CDC and its plan to qualify local residents for USDA loans. Currently, Camden County is the only county that has provided any money to the CDC. Once the program gets going, they hope to sustain it by making money off the $1,350 fee they receive for every loan that gets processed.
I did some research on USDA Direct Loans and you can’t qualify for them if you make more that 115% of the median income in your area.
Affordable housing for the local labor force is a problem in Camden County. It seems a little unfair that Camden County contributed $250,000 to the Lake Area CDC while the other three counties have yet to contribute a single dollar. With inflation increasing construction costs and interest rates rising steadily, it is a strange time to invest in a program that is focussed on providing home loans. Building costs are rising while mortgage purchasing power is dropping.
Especially in a meeting where we just heard Camden County will have to pay $4.7 million on critical renovations to its government buildings.
That $250,000 could have been a 5% payment on the cost of the courthouse renovation project.
Oh, and I still didn’t get my visitor’s pass. After hearing about all of the asbestos, maybe that’s not a bad thing.