Democrats discuss health department building
Marion County should build health department offices that stand the test of time, Marion mayoral candidate Mike Powers said Saturday at a Marion County Democrats meeting in Florence.
The county is about to send out requests for proposals from architects to design a new health department building.
Property sold to the county by Marion Advancement Committee for $1 would provide space for a building that would allow staff to expand programs and better serve residents, county commissioner David Mueller said.
However, not all commissioners are sold on the location, which formerly housed the county food bank.
Commissioner Kent Becker, for example, wants the health department in Hillsboro, not Marion.
Commission Randy Dallke has said preliminary plans may be too expensive.
A condition of selling the former food bank property to the county was that “we build public health there,” Mueller said.
Powers is a leading member of Marion Advancement Compaign.
An attendee of the meeting — which was open to the public, not just Democrats — asked where the property was.
One person answered, “across the street and a little east from Carlsons’ Grocery” on Main St.
The specific address is 1220 E. Main St.
“It’s between the liquor store and the fitness center,” Powers said, getting a laugh from attendees about the juxtaposition of the two businesses.
The county started looking for a site three years ago, Mueller said.
“We’ve looked at eight different scenarios,” he told attendees.
One of those was the former Silk Salon building on US-56, which the county bought but then decided wasn’t a good fit for the health department.
“Marion Advancement Campaign had the former food bank site, and it just clicked,” Mueller said.
The building would be a single story because elevators are costly, Mueller said. The county still has American Rescue Plan money available, including $900,000 for public health.
“That won’t cover the total cost, but it sure will go a long way,” Mueller said. “Our intent would be to pay for the building without additional funds.”
By that, he meant asking taxpayers to approve a bond issue.
Krista Schneider, director of the health department, also spoke at the meeting and said more space was needed to expand programs.
In handling COVID-19, she said, “health officials learned a lot about how we were not set up the best.”
The department doesn’t have a conference room or an area to provide education to clients, she said.
Powers said the county should build “looking forward and build something that will stand the test of time.”
Attendee Margaret Wilson agreed.
“When you build a shed in your backyard, it’s never big enough,” she said.
“We all relate to that,” Eileen Sieger, chairman of the county Democrats, said.
Commissioner David Crofoot was scheduled to speak at the meeting as well, but Powers said a miscommunication about the date prevented him from attending.
Construction of a new building probably would start next year, Mueller said.
When an attendee said he thought that was too optimistic, Mueller said he would hold out hope.
“It seems like good things take time,” he said.