County earmarks $4 million of ARPA funds

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

Osage County commissioners voted, 3-0, on May 2 to earmark $4  million of federal COVID-19 relief money to help with financing for a facilities project.

County officials had already pledged Use Tax revenues to pay for the construction of a new administrative building, also referred to as a courthouse annex. The price tag for that building, and for the services needed to create it, was $10.75 million.

Financing is also desired to pay for improvements at the courthouse, and District 1 Commissioner Randall Jones on May 2 led a discussion of the county board that resulted in a vote to earmark $4 million of money the county is receiving through the federal American Relief Plan Act (ARPA).

A final vote on a formal resolution to that effect was placed on the commissioners’ May 9 agenda.

During the May 2 meeting, county resident Jerry Butterbaugh voiced concern that the earmark could embolden contractors to submit inflated bids, to submit change orders and to incur cost overruns.

Jones told the Journal-Capital in a follow-up telephone call that the entire $4 million might not be needed. It might be possible to spend about $2.2 million of the federal money, he said.

Butterbaugh is not the only person sounding an alarm about the growth of the amount of money being diverted to the courthouse and courthouse annex initiative.

Counry Assessor Ed Quinton Jr. said he thinks a special meeting should be held to address questions about costs and about the quality of what Osage County will receive for its money.

Jones said that meetings for public discussion have pretty much already taken place, although there may be some discussion in a commissioners’ meeting when the project reaches its next stage.

Quinton questioned the extent to which the commissioners are keeping up with project costs and evaluating them.

”I just don’t feel like the commissioners are engaged with the price and the square footage,” Quinton said.

Jones said the currently anticipated cost for the new administrative building is about $348 per square foot. The anticipated square footages for the building are 11,353 for the second floor, 12,945 for the first floor, and 1,860 square feet for the basement, he said.

Quinton said that, based on his research regarding the cost of high-quality office space in Osage County, $348 per square foot is roughly $100 per square foot more expensive than anything else of its kind in the county.

Quinton also estimated that the space in the new county administrative building is currently overpriced by about $2.4 million.

Quinton not only questioned the cost of the project as it is being developed, he questioned why grant funds had not been sought to cut the amount of out-of-pocket cost to county government.

Quinton said his concern is that county government officials are not being cautious enough with taxpayer money.