By Steve Woodhouse
Knoxville — No action was taken at Tuesday's regular Marion County Board of Supervisors' meeting in regard to the possibility of providing space for the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) at the East Annex on Sixth Street in Knoxville.
The DHS retains space in Marion County in the same building as the Heart of Iowa Regional Transportation Authority (HIRTA), located east of Knoxville on Main Street. According to Supervisor Mark Raymie and County Attorney Ed Bull, DHS has informed the County that it no longer wants to occupy the HIRTA building when the current lease agreement expires. The agreement expires in June 2014.
DHS has expressed interest in keeping its Targeted Case Management services in Knoxville, if the County has other space available. Moving to the East Annex, the former Public Health building, was a proposal. DHS needed an answer from the Board of Supervisors regarding the County's interest in writing a new agreement to allow DHS to lease space in the East Annex.
Supervisor Craig Agan expressed disappointment in the lack of interest by DHS to continue to use the HIRTA building. He said the County has put a new roof on the building and made other accommodations for DHS to provide a good working space.
Bull responded by saying that in this case DHS is a tenant who does not want to stay at its current location and could move elsewhere, possibly outside of Marion County. He added that it is helpful to have DHS in Marion County to provide space for meetings and workspace for investigators.
Agan renewed his argument as to how accommodating the County has been. Bull reiterated that DHS will not renew an agreement for the HIRTA building.
Agan and Board Chairman Jim Kingery were concerned about losing space in the East Annex, as other Marion County departments may need it. Kingery also agreed with Agan in regard to the investment the County has made in the HIRTA building and he does not want to do the same thing with the East Annex.
"We should probably put or County people ahead of everyone else," Kingery said.
The East Annex has not been used for office space since Public Health moved to its current location in April 2011. Raymie told the board that DHS is willing to pay for space at the East Annex, which is a good thing. Bull added that he thought the agreement would have been "fairly lucrative" for Marion County. The East Annex is currently bringing in no revenue.
Bull continued to discuss how his office utilizes the HIRTA building. This includes family team meetings twice a week. If his office did not have access to the building, and had to travel outside of the county to hold them, it would create a hardship for his office and the families involved. Bull later said that the office could utilize the building if it has access, regardless of whether or not DHS maintained a presence there.
Agan seemed to have no information regarding the intentions of DHS, though Bull indicated that the DHS situation has been discussed at a previous board meeting. Kingery reiterated his concern about having enough space for County services.
According to Maintenance Director Cal Stephens, every person working for DHS in the county could fit into the East Annex, and half of the building would still be empty. Stephens also believes there is ample parking around the building. Stephens is also under the impression that if the East Annex required any remodeling to meet DHS needs, the DHS would pay for it.
"I don't want to commit that building (East Annex) to DHS," Agan said. Plans for facilities should be based upon needs of the County.
Central Point Coordinator Betty Moll said that if DHS moves its Targeted Case Management out of the county, many consumers would be hurt. Most of them are poor, have no vehicles, or otherwise would struggle to have their needs met.
"The services will definitely be hurt," Moll said. "If you don't want (DHS) to leave the county, you have to help (DHS) stay here."
The question posed to the board of supervisors, on the posted agenda, was a request for office space at the East Annex. The supervisors voted 2-1 (Kingery voted against) to close discussion on the topic without providing an answer to DHS. Prior to adjournment, Bull asked for direction for what to tell DHS, as the organization wanted to know the County's intentions. Raymie said if DHS is looking at other space outside of the East Annex, DHS should proceed.