County leaders are at odds when it comes to the idea of constructing a consolidated office building in Bishop to house county services.
While four members of the Board of Supervisors are willing to delve deeper into the details of the project, Fifth District Supervisor Richard Cervantes is passionately opposed to the idea and would rather see it go away than continue to weigh the costs and benefit.
The finer details of the proposed project have not been hammered out, and until that information – such as the cost of the project, how much space is needed and how much money the county will be saving by abandoning its current leases in Bishop – has been finalized, the county has the opportunity to back out at any time.
Last year, Inyo County released a request for proposals from companies that might be interested in building a consolidated office in Bishop.
In September, the county entered into an exclusive negotiating agreement with Joseph Enterprises, which owns a parcel of property on U.S. 6 just north of Bishop.
According to County Administrative Officer Kevin Carunchio, the exclusive negotiating agreement is a non-binding contract that will allow the county to back out if the project does not shape up the way leaders want it to.
The agreement merely promises Joseph Enterprises that the county will not enter into negotiations with another business or individual for a consolidated office space while it is still working with Joseph Enterprises.
The Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Tuesday, with Cervantes objecting, to extend the exclusive negotiating agreement through June to allow the county and Joseph Enterprises to complete a cost-benefit analysis of the project.
Before making a decision on the negotiating agreement, the Board of Supervisors took time Monday to hold a special tour of all the county offices in Bishop and get a feel for working conditions.
Second District Supervisor Susan Cash said Monday’s tour was an eye-opener for her, and she would like to see if the consolidated office building would solve some of the county’s problems.
Aside from the money the county spends for leasing five offices in Bishop, Cash said some of the facilities the county is currently using could be a liability.
“We have some serious violations we need to address,”Cash said. For example, she said she saw the Inyo County Sheriff’s evidence technician processing evidence on a vehicle hood, due to a lack of space and ventilation in the department’s Bishop office. “We’ve acknowledged the liability, now what are we going to do about it?”
Fourth District Supervisor and Board Chair Marty Fortney agreed that there are safety issues that need to be addressed in Bishop.
Fortney said fire and safety were at the forefront of his mind during Monday’s tour. “I was appalled that our county has turned its back on safety of our employees and its citizens. This is alarming to me,” Fortney said.
Cervantes said he does not approve of any project that would put the county in debt.
“Up until this point, we’re fairly debt free,” Cervantes said. “I wish the board would thoroughly examine this. Most of the information we have are bits and pieces.”
Fortney said the reason Cervantes feels like he is in the dark on the project is because he often walks out of closed session board meetings and even walked out of Monday’s tour before seeing all the buildings.
Cervantes denied walking out on the board’s closed session meetings, and said he left the tour early money because he was already familiar with the buildings that he did not tour.
Bishop resident Thaddeus Taylor also said he does not support the proposed project.
“I hope the board will consider alternatives other than putting the county in debt,” Taylor said. “It’s going to be expensive in these times of fiscal uncertainty.”
First District Supervisor Linda Arcularius said she understands the apprehension about getting the county into debt, but she said she wants to continue the process to see if building the facility will be cost-effective.
“I want to approve this and get full disclosure,” Arcularius said before voting to extend the negotiating agreement. “Of the five of us here, four of us still have an open mind. I want to see what we’re currently paying, with rent increases plus tenant improvements. We’ve paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for tenant improvements.”
Arcularius also said that, with the negotiating agreement extended, Joseph Enterprises will bear the burden of developing a site plan. Without Joseph Enterprises, the county would need to find money and staff time to do that itself.
Carunchio estimates that the project will cost approximately $14 million. He said his hope is to enter into a 20-year lease-to-own contract with Joseph Enterprises. At the end of the lease, the county would be able to purchase the building for $1.
“It’s a matter of if the short-term debt is more advantageous than long-term debt,” Carunchio said.