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Lewis officials get mixed reaction on office building project


LOWVILLE — Lewis County legislators on Tuesday received mixed reactions on whether to construct a two-story office building on outer Stowe Street.

While nearly half of the more than 150 people who packed the Lowville fire hall for an informational session on the project indicated they would support it, the rest expressed concerns over not only spending the roughly $11 million but also its impact on traffic safety.

“We’re going to be safe in the building, it sounds, but are we going to be safe on Stowe Street?” said Stanley M. VanZandt, a resident on that steeply inclined thoroughfare.

Several Stowe Street residents complained that pleas to the village to correct deficiencies, including vehicle-swallowing ditches, over many years have yet to result in action. Additional traffic for a third county office building — along with the current Department of Social Services and Public Safety buildings — could make the situation even more dangerous, they said.

County and village officials said they plan to meet soon to discuss that issue, along with water and sewer service concerns.

“We’ll do our best to work with the village to make things as safe as possible,” said Legislator Jack T. Bush, R-Brantingham, chairman of the legislative Buildings and Grounds Committee.

“I drive that street to my baby sitter’s, and I’m not comfortable,” Mayor Donna M. Smith said.

However, the cost of street upgrades, estimated at more than $600,000 several years ago, has made the project unfeasible, village officials said.

While some residents expressed concern about the proposed building’s cost, lawmakers expressed the need to do something soon, given that a few buildings in which the county leases office space are for sale. The Jefferson-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services is interested in leasing and eventually buying the former St. Peter’s Catholic School on Shady Avenue.

“We could be out in the snowbank pretty soon,” said Legislature Chairman Michael A. Tabolt, R-Croghan.

In the event of losing the former school space, lawmakers expressed hope that at least some offices could be left intact until a new building can be completed or other arrangements are made.

The total cost of the project, if bonded over 10 years, is estimated at nearly $11.9 million, according to Legislator Philip C. Hathway, R-Harrisville.

It could be covered by $4.7 million from state Department of Social Services reimbursement, $500,000 annually from wind farm funding for the next nine years and $2.7 million in extra property taxes, he said.

That would require a 2 percent property tax hike next year, meaning an extra $14.30 per year for a homeowner of a $100,000 residence over the next decade, Mr. Hathway said.

Buying and renovating the three buildings the county leases — for roughly $188,000 per year — probably would cost $7 million to $9 million with no assistance from state funding, he said.

Those buildings also were not designed for offices and don’t make efficient use of space, lawmakers said.

While legislators had initially discussed a third, unfinished story on the new building, it appears the consensus is now on a two-story, 45,000-square-foot version, which is expected to offer more than enough space.

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