The move of the Portage County Health Department to the Resources on Oakwood Campus of Family & Community Services Inc. was nearly derailed Thursday.
After last week agreeing to enter a lease and pay moving expenses for the health department to move from the county administration building on South Meridian Street in Ravenna, commissioners discovered Thursday that the county is not obligated to cover that rent expense.
After answering a question pertaining to the terms of the lease in morning session, Assistant Prosecutor Chris Maduri told commissioners a state Attorney General's opinion from 2010 said, unlike general health districts, counties are not obligated to provide space to "combined general health districts" that cover cities as well as townships and villages.
The news was a surprise to commissioners and others who, for decades, have believed the county was obligated under law to provide space to the health department.
In the end, commissioners fagreed to pay the moving expenses and the first six months rent for the health department to free up space for the county Job & Family Services to expand into the health department's third-floor space.
The issue started last week when county commissioners approved entering a lease with F&CS that called for the county to pay about $40,000 per year rent ($5 per square foot), including utilities, for 10 years for the space at 705 Oakwood St.
The Job & Family Services operation would take over the 8,000 square feet of space on the third floor and pay the county about $78,000 annual rent ($9.81 per square foot).
Facing the prospect of a tight budget again next year, commissioners discussed dropping the lease arrangement.
"It's not a pleasant thing, but it's a necessary thing," Maureen Frederick told health department head DuWayne Porter, when the board and Porter met Thursday.
Porter noted the health department is moving at the request of commissioners to make room for the county Department of Job and Family Services.
"I was willing to cooperate because you asked me to move," Porter said.
He said people know the health department's location, and being in the administration building does have some benefits.
"I don't know if I can afford to move. It would actually be cheaper for me to pay the $78,000 rent," Porter said.
Porter asked if commissioners could pay the moving costs and the first six months of rent, until April 1.
"That's when the first of the replacement levy money will come in," Porter said.
If they agreed, Commissioner Tommie Jo Marsilio asked if the department could repay the expenses and rent, but Porter said the department already has obligations for the levy money. She offered to sweeten the deal by advancing the money at no interest.
Without the county's aid, Porter said, "at this point I think we would like to just stay where we're at and pay you the rate."
Doing that would mean the county would lose the extra space for JFS and the additional $78,000 a year for the general fund.
Or, Porter said, he could ask the courts for a declaratory judgment on the attorney general's opinion -- a process that could take weeks and would derail the planned moves. Commissioners approved picking up the tab for the health department's move and rent through April 1.
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