Tuesday, January 14, 2003

Heimlich's first day: Cut losses

Wants to sell building bought for $3.7 million

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Hamilton County Commissioner Phil Heimlich indicated Monday he might provide the swing vote to sell a building the commissioners bought for $3.7 million less than four months ago - making his presence felt barely five hours after taking office.

"I'm sure we could use some extra space ... but it may be something we can't afford," Mr. Heimlich said.

The commissioners bought the Hartford Building, 630 Main St., in the fall to renovate for several departments now in the administration building, at 138 E. Court St. But renovations to the 86,000-square-foot, five-story facility would cost $5 million.

The county's cost if the commissioners decide not to renovate would be $400,000 in asbestos removal and other work already completed, $500,000 to get the interior in saleable condition, and $12,000 a month in maintenance and utilities until the building sells, building officials said Monday.

Commissioner John Dowlin also wants to sell the building.

Other options the county has considered to increase space for its 6,000 employees: spend $5.8 million to build a 30,000-square-foot facility on New Burlington Road or spend $600,000 to renovate space at 800 Broadway, a county building. However, the Broadway space is not enough to meet needs and is earmarked for the future expansion of juvenile court, officials said.

"Last year, there was a pretty forceful case made by the administration that we have serious space problems," said Commissioner Todd Portune, the lone Democrat.

Still, Mr. Dowlin and Mr. Heimlich fear that the weak economy and state budget crisis could throw the county into a crisis, too, if they don't curb spending.

The Hartford Building, formerly used by Procter & Gamble, was for sale for more than two years - with an original asking price of $5 million - before the county bought it. Mr. Heimlich asked administrators to look into hiring a commercial real estate agent to advise how best to market the property.

Mr. Heimlich also told Administrator David Krings on Monday that he wants to review items the commissioners added to the budget last month, and he asked that those items not be funded until they're discussed again.

The only decision that probably cannot be revisited, Mr. Krings said, is the $360,000 appropriation to increase jurors' daily pay from $7.50 to $19.

"I'm not sure, absent some type of emergency, you can reduce the judges' budget once it's passed," Mr. Krings said.

The commissioners meeting followed Mr. Heimlich's swearing-in Monday morning, in which he said he would strive to restore trust in county government by cleaning up its finances. Mr. Heimlich was elected in November to replace fellow Republican Tom Neyer, who did not seek re-election.

E-mail candrews@enquirer.com

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