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Sheriff’s office gets green light to proceed with new facility

Next step: Request qualifications from architects, look at properties by Garrett Fuller | March 1, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.
Democrat photo/Garrett Fuller — Presiding Commissioner Joe Lutz, left, shakes hands with road Sgt. Aaron Bishop Thursday (Feb. 23, 2023,) after commissioners voted to proceed with planning the new sheriff's office facility at the Moniteau County Courthouse.

Instead of continuing to kick the can down the road, the Moniteau County commissioners gave the Moniteau County Sheriff's Office the OK to proceed with planning its new facility.

Moniteau County Sheriff Tony Wheatley met with county commissioners again Thursday to continue discussion on possibly erecting a new home for the sheriff's office. With several sheriff deputies waiting patiently in the hallway, Wheatley finally got the thumbs up from commissioners after fleshing out the process for moving forward and discussing prevailing wage concerns.

The proposed facility, which Wheatley presented to commissioners Feb. 9, is a complex consisting of three standard metal buildings -- a main office and two garages. An 80-by-100-foot main building would feature a publicly-accessible secure lobby with an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant restroom, with offices and storage space in a secure portion. An adjacent 40-by-60-foot garage to be used for vehicle maintenance and a workshop could be transformed into additional office space if needed, and another 20-by-40-foot garage features additional evidence and file storage space to give the sheriff's office ample growing room for the future.

A new facility with room to grow is a stark contrast to the sheriff's office's temporary facility at 110 N. High St. Wheatley said the location, which they moved to in 2018 after the former sheriff's office was closed for mold and water seepage issues, lacks space for meetings and training exercises, and is quickly filling to capacity with files and evidence. In a news release discussing the need for a new facility, Wheatley wrote 12 deputies are working from a 17-by-13-foot room with only two desks.

"The building is not large enough to hold our regular deputies' meetings and briefs as there is no way all the deputies will fit into one room all together at the same time," Wheatley wrote. He also said the sheriff's office is utilizing the facility's garage to store files, equipment and miscellaneous items. With the garage at capacity, the sheriff's office has been forced to utilize its interview room for additional files and equipment. He also wrote that other areas used for evidence storage are at capacity, leaving the sheriff's office with no storage space left. The current facility also lacks a secure entrance and is not ADA compliant.

Wheatley reiterated the need for a new facility at the meeting, and said the project has been overlooked since budget issues prevented the sheriff's office from moving into the new jail when it was constructed in 2013.

"I think, again, I think the need is definitely there, it's been there since I think 2010, that's when they started planning the jail project to move the sheriff's office and jail over to (the new jail)," he said. "I think it's needed, definitely needed, and the place we're in now is not suitable. The can's been kicked down the road for 13 years now. Kick the can down the road so long and you're going to run out of road, and I think we're pretty much at that point right now."

Presiding Commissioner Joe Lutz opened discussion on the sheriff's office by providing a glimpse at what the process should look like moving forward.

"We are here today to basically vote whether we want to proceed with finding out whether we can afford to build one and then go at it. Everything has to be bid out, you even have to bid out the architect. You have to request for qualifications from them," he said. "... The sheriff's got a lot of information for us and he's kind of gotten us together as far as what we're looking at, prices, building sizes, whatever, so that's kind of given us the preliminaries."

From there, Lutz said, the sheriff's office will need an architect and engineers, along with acquiring the land it wishes to build on. With architectural drawings completed and a location selected, bids will be solicited from contractors to construct the facility before groundbreaking can happen.

Wheatley contacted an architecture firm to acquire ideas for pricing and turnaround time for an architect. With a preliminary plan already compiled, Wheatley said the project is a bid-build project using a packaged structure. The firm told Wheatley the sheriff's office would likely not need a structural engineer for a pre-engineered packaged structure. The simple nature of the project also makes a mechanical engineer unnecessary, as the building will likely use residential or light commercial heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems as opposed to more complicated and expensive commercial systems.

The architecture firm presented Wheatley with two options for architectural services. With the first option, the cheapest, an architect would prepare construction blueprints with a 3D rendering of the facility's exterior and interior, and complete a code review.

The firm also presented a complete package, where architects would also be responsible for mechanical and structural engineering, along with producing construction blueprints and renderings, conducting a code review, and overseeing the construction bid process.

Lutz said the commissioners will still be required to request for qualifications from other architects. An architect won't necessarily be awarded the project for having the lowest bid. Rather, Lutz said, it will be awarded based on experience and who the sheriff's office feels comfortable working with. Wheatley said if the sheriff's office produces its own specification sheet, which outlines the details of the project, the architects recommended having a pre-bid conference to answer questions from interested contractors.

After discussing the architectural and planning stage of the project, Wheatley turned his attention to discussing prevailing wage after the Missouri Department of Labor (DOL) contacted him "out of the blue" with some additional guidance on the topic. Prevailing wage is the average wage paid to workers in a certain occupation, such as ironworkers, electricians and plumbers. According to the Missouri Department of Labor, prevailing wage must be paid on "public works construction projects valued at more than $75,000, such as bridges, roads, and government buildings. The prevailing wage rate differs by county and for different types of work."

Wheatley told commissioners the DOL representative said their office will not get involved in labor disputes on the project. There was uncertainty on whether the project would require prevailing wages to be paid, since the sheriff's office was looking at doing a six-year, $800,000 municipality lease-to-own contract with Commerce Bank to have the facility built.

If the project requires paying prevailing wages, the representative told Wheatley he would need to pull the prevailing wage figures for each occupation type working on the facility. For instance, Wheatley said, the prevailing wage for ironworkers is $24 per hour currently. He also said increased prevailing wages are going to be posted in March and take effect in May or June. To avoid paying the higher rates, the commissioners would need to bid construction before the new rates take effect.

Wheatley said contractors can seek civil recourse if they were not paid the prevailing wage on a job where they th0ught it was required. Contractors can also bid under the prevailing wage to win the lowest bid on a project. If a contractor submits a bid below prevailing wage on a job requiring it, they will be required to pay the difference.

The DOL representative also offered suggestions on other parts of the process. Wheatley said they recommended the sheriff's office work closely with its lending institution to prevent contract disputes, as many institutions have entire departments that work with municipal leases. While the sheriff's office received a lease-to-own proposal with an optimal 5-percent interest rate from Commerce Bank to build the facility, commissioners will re-bid lending institutions to "make sure everyone has an opportunity to submit a bid."

Before voting whether to proceed, the individual commissioners commented on the facility. Lutz and Clint Hoellering, District 1 commissioner, were already onboard with moving forward. Lutz said bringing in an architect can flesh out the cost and requirements for the project, and Hoellering reiterated that costs will continue to increase.

"Everybody's got a different opinion on timelines," Hoellering said. "I'm in agreement with it because, I think, like (Wheatley) said, we're going to bid ourselves out (if we wait)."

While two of the three commissioners were onboard with the project, Rick Messerli, District 2 commissioner, had concerns regarding the use of Proposition P funds and the building itself. As discussed in the previous meeting, funds from the half-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2020 will be used for incidental costs, furnishings and the annual lease costs for the facility.

"I think the question from my constituents that I've heard from is the fact that we, when we done the budget and we give you this line item, which is fine ..., we was going to wait a year to do anything else with it," Messerli said. "We were going to see how you managed your money. You needed cars ... right? We want you to have a building, but we was going to wait. Well then this (was) thrown on us that we're going to build an $800,000 building. Well that's not a problem, either, guys, that's a good price. But when I go looking at the specs, do you guys really want a building that doesn't have a roof on it other than like a pole barn? ... I look at the structure of it and you want sheeting then you want your metal on. You don't want to be sitting in a meeting with 35 officers and hear it raining outside and you can't even hear you talk from here to there. ... The rumor mill is I'm against it. I'm not against a sheriff's office, I'm against the way it (was) done to begin with. I want it done right, because I'm responsible for that, and so are these guys."

Wheatley rebutted that his department regularly comes in under budget. He also said the type of structure they're looking to build is fairly common in California, such as the Fraternal Order of Eagles facility.

"We come in under budget almost every year, and I've got the biggest budget here, just about," Wheatley said. "I've got two offices to run and when you say 'how you manage your money,' and save your money, I kind of take offense to that because we come in under budget and we turn in a ton of money back in the county every year."

Lutz said the issue is less about money management and more about whether the funds will be there.

"When you say 'managing your money,' that's not what I'm worried about," Lutz said. "I'm worried about is the money actually going to come in like we're planning on."

The motion to proceed with the facility passed 2-1, with Messerli being the only opposition. A separate motion to request qualifications from architects also passed unanimously.

Wheatley wrote in an email to the Democrat that he is thankful for community support on the project.

"We are not looking at adding anything else to the project and do appreciate all of the support we received from the public on moving forward with this much-needed and overdue project," he wrote.

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