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St. Croix County bids to keep USDA offices in Baldwin

Following a closed session last week, the St. Croix County Board directed the county administrator to submit a proposal to continue to lease space in the Agricultural Services Building to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The county has leased a portion of the Baldwin building to the USDA for the past 17 years. The proposal being submitted would continue that lease arrangement for at least the next 10 years.

The county currently rents 3,208 square feet to the federal agencies for $18 per square foot, said County Administrator Pat Thompson. That payment, which figures out to $57,774, also covers utilities.

Because this is a competitive bid process, Thompson could not give specifics of the county’s new proposal.

Federal agencies now in the building include the USDA’s Farm Service Agency and Natural Resources Conservation Service, University of Wisconsin-Extension, the Land and Water Conservation Department and the County Parks Department also have offices in the building at 1680 Eighth Ave. in Baldwin.

The current lease expires at the end of the year, and the USDA has issued a request for proposals.

“There are other bidders that have submitted proposals and have until Friday to modify their proposals,” Thompson said last week.

$10 million bond

The board voted unanimously to authorize its bond counsel to seek bids on borrowing up to $10 million for several building improvement projects.

Springsted Inc., the county’s financial advisors, will advertise the sale for Aug. 4.

“The county is in very good financial shape,” said Springsted Vice President Joe Murray, who predicted that with St. Croix County’s aggressive repayment record and its Aa2 credit rating, it can expect to pay an interest rate of just over 2 percent.

The county will also apply $3.3 million from the sale of its land in New Richmond to the cost of the projects, thus reducing the amount borrowed, Thompson said.

Supervisor Ron Kiesler of New Richmond pointed out that the county has a $25 million general fund balance, over $5 million more than needed, and wondered if some of that could be applied to the projects.

Projects to be funded with bond proceeds include the following:

— Communications (9-1-1) Center expansion, Phase 1

— Building acquisition, construction and equipment costs related to the relocation of Health and Human Services Department to the St. Croix County Services Center at 1752 Dorset Lane in New Richmond

— Vacating, demolition and cleanup of the old HHS building

— Public safety communication system improvement, Phase II, including replacement of the microwave system, simulcast/trunk conversion and replacement and addition of radio towers

— Deferred 2014 requests, including jail central renovation, repairs on the Government Center parking lot and information technology upgrades

Budget additions

The board voted unanimously to increase the 2014 budget by $1.47 million to cover adjustments.

Thompson said the new costs will be covered by carry-over funds from the 2013 budget, excess sales tax revenues and additional or new state and federal funding. He said the change will not increase 2014 property tax rates.

The increases include $888,948 more the Health and Human Services is receiving from the state, $53,335 HHS is receiving in 2014 for the dementia care program, funding for a part-time diversion worker in the district attorney’s office, and $22,000 for nursing home pay raises.

Judy Wiff

Judy Wiff has been regional editor for RiverTown’s Wisconsin newspapers since 1996. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and sociology from UW-River Falls. She has worked as a reporter for several weekly newspapers in Wisconsin.

(715) 426-1049