Buy or Lease?

A new ambulance headquarters in Sturgeon Bay is a step closer to fruition after a unanimous vote by the Door County Board of Supervisors on June 23 to proceed with Phase III of the project, which is the actual letting of the architectural design and bidding process.

While the board approved moving on to Phase III, there is one item yet to be resolved, and that is negotiations with Ministry Door County Medical Center on the piece of property across from the YMCA. The county previously had a 40-year lease with the hospital for the ambulance center it has outgrown on hospital property. Phase III requires site-specific designs, so it cannot proceed until the site is secured through a contract with the hospital.

Supervisor Ken Fisher suggested the county should consider buying the land rather than leasing it and later “being held up for ransom by some other entity.”

Corporation Counsel and Interim County Administrator Grant Thomas replied that the subject of buying the land had been broached with hospital decision-makers “and there was not a lot of enthusiasm from them.”

Fisher was backed up by Supervisor Charles Brann, who said it doesn’t make sense to spend millions on a building and not own the land.

“If it was your personal property, would you do it?” Brann asked. “I don’t think so.”

Supervisor Don Sitte also went on record as saying he thinks the county should own the land the EMS center sits on, while Supervisor Leo Zipperer said he supports the original resolution to lease from the hospital.

Supervisor Ben Meyer, who chairs the Property Committee, said “We currently don’t own a parcel of property in the area [of the proposed station],” so he advised that deciding not to lease from the hospital “may involve a purchase of property we currently don’t own, and another significant investment.”

It was decided that the Property Committee would address these issues at its July 1 meeting and bring them back to the full board at its July meeting.

Senior municipal adviser Todd Taves of Ehlers, a Milwaukee-based public sector financial advice company, reported to the board that 10 bids were received in the county’s recent general obligation refunding bond issue.

“That’s very strong,” Taves said. “Typically, if we have three to five bids, that’s a good deal.”

He said it was Robert W. Baird combined with other brokerage firms that offered the winning low bid of 1.4675 percent on the $9,875,000 in bonds issued. Taves also reported that the county’s AA2 bond rating is very strong and on the cusp of being upgraded to AA1.

Supervisor Sitte asked what it would take to get that higher rating.

“A general increase in the tax base of the county,” Taves answered.

The board followed the recommendation of the county’s Resource Planning Committee by approving the rezoning of a 17-acre parcel southeast of county highways A and F in the Town of Gibraltar to allow Northern Sky Theater to buy the property from the Stella Maris Parish and build a fine arts venue that will include storage, rehearsal and performance space as well as an administrative and ticket office.

The board also voted 19-1 to commence with Phase III for a new Community Center to replace the inadequate Senior Center on 14th Avenue in Sturgeon Bay. The new building would also be home to the Aging and Disability Resource Center staff.

The board also approved in a 19-1 vote a resolution requesting that the state Joint Finance Committee remove a motion in the 2015-17 budget that contains “significant regulatory changes pertaining to county shoreland zoning.”