Ocean View officials are considering whether to use the Lampe House, adjacent to the town park, for a headquarters for the town’s public works department as shortages of funds and space leave the town administration stuck in the closet — literally.
Ocean View Finance Director Lee Brubaker has been working from a closet-sized space at the town hall since the addition of his position last year.
At the same time, town officials have been seeking a new home for the town’s public works department, with insufficient room currently to store the public works equipment and tight quarters for Administrative Official Charles McMullen in an office at town hall.
Initial discussion had focused on the construction of a new, spacious public works building, to meet the town’s increasing need for services and equipment. But revenue shortfalls in the slow real estate market put a damper on those plans, cutting an estimated $1.4 million budget for a new building to just $300,000 in funding available for some kind of expansion this year.
With that background, Councilman Bill Wichmann proposed at the council’s Jan. 22 workshop that they consider moving McMullen from his town hall office to the Lampe House, which the town purchased last year with an eye toward some kind of eventual expansion there — for the town park and/or the public works office.
The existing home on the property, McMullen said, is an older home, with oil heat and hardwood floors, a kitchen, living room, garage and all the usual elements found in a residence. But he said it could make a comfortable office for him and public works employees — as long as the move isn’t too temporary.
With no firm plans for the property or for expansion of town hall to accommodate Brubaker’s work, Wichmann proposed the Lampe House as a temporary home for public works. He said last week that he was still hoping to build the $1.4 million public works building the committee tasked with looking into those needs had recommended, perhaps on the site of the Lampe House.
While McMullen supported the idea of turning his existing office over to Brubaker, he said he didn’t want the move to turn into a hassle for his own work.
“I wouldn’t have a problem with it if I wouldn’t move and then have to come back into a closet,” McMullen said, noting filing cabinets full of town records would have to go with him — and potentially come back.
McMullen said a move of three or four months’ duration would only create headaches, while a six-month or longer move — during which construction would take place on a public works building or an addition at town hall that would accommodate both his and Brubaker’s work — might be workable.
Councilman Richard Nippes recommended the town perform a full needs-assessment on the situation, to see what the best course might be. Wichmann said he did not disagree on that point, but he lamented any additional lag in resolving the public works space dilemma.
“We paid an architect a year ago to design a proper building for the department of public works,” he said. “Now I’m hearing, ‘We’re broke. We only have $300,000.’”
“If we’re going to do it, we’ve got to do it right,” Wichmann added, noting plans to hire two part-time employees to assist McMullen and money the town currently has in the bank. “I know how long things take to get done. And at the end of the day, we only have a few options. This is not that hard.”
Town Manager Conway Gregory took issue with the notion that the town is “broke.”
“We’re not broke. And if I have said so, I apologize,” he said. “But every dollar we have has been allocated.”
Gregory said it was up to the mayor and town council members to decide how they want to spend the town’s money.
“If you want to spend $1.4 million on a public works building, we can. But something else will have to come off the table,” Gregory said, reiterating a point he made during budget discussions late in 2007.
Gregory said the $300,000 allocated for a public works building in the draft budget appeared to be sufficient to create a building adequate for storage of town equipment and an office for McMullen. He said he did not plan for McMullen to move out of the town hall and then move back again in three or four months and emphasized that no final plans for the Lampe House or the property it sits upon had been made.
“I want to assure you that we will have a public works building up sometime this year and Mr. Brubaker will move to Mr. McMullen’s office. There is no delay,” Gregory added.
Wichmann noted that no further word on the funding for the recommended $1.4 million had been provided to him, as chairman of the committee dealing with the issue, since it was tabled pending budget and cost analysis last year. Gregory said the $300,000 figure in the draft budget was the result of that analysis.
“I would have no part of a $300,000 job,” Wichmann countered. “There is no way I would have backed a $300,000 building.”
“Tell me how to get it,” Gregory offered.
Wichmann, noting his own objections to loans taken to build the new public safety building while the town technically had money in the bank, suggested perhaps a similar loan arrangement would be found appropriate since the town had decided to carry the previous loan.
That aside, Mayor Gary Meredith said he believed the town should move forward with some kind of decision on a public works building. He requested a report on the feasibility of work that could be done with $300,000, whether an expansion of town hall or a new public works building. He asked for those figures to be ready for council’s consideration in March.
“We need to do something — this year, sometime,” Meredith said.