The Glacier County Com-missioners reaffirmed their commitment to demolish the county-owned Merc building on South Central Ave., clearing the way for the sale of the Chamber-owned Public Drug building. A contingency of City of Cut Bank and Cut Bank Area Chamber of Commerce members met with the Commissioners on May 2 during their regular meeting in Cut Bank.
Mayor Dan Raemaeker informed the Commissioners the Chamber has an interested buyer in the building, but the sale is contingent on the demolition of the Merc building, as earlier agreed upon by county officials in 2016.
Since county officials have not moved forward, Raemaeker, at the direction of the City Council, offered to have the City of Cut Bank take over the demolition of the county property, provided the County transfer the $10,000 grant received from the Glacier County Regional Port Authority in 2016 and the $7,000 in county funds, which were committed by the commissioners in April 2016. The City would also need the County to still pay for the Geo-Technical Engineering Report that is needed prior to the demolition.
While City officials prefer the County complete the project they started over three years ago, Raemaeker said the City would step in and take over if the County agreed to remit the estimated $57,000 in needed funding. The City had already agreed to take ownership of the lot, pave and maintain it, once the demolition was complete.
Chamber Executive Director Amy Overstreet reminded the Commissioners that in 2016 they agreed to demolish the building. Once they committed to the project, the Department of Environmental Quality then spent $57,000 on abatement related expenses to the Merc building. DEQ has allocated an additional $30-40,000 on the future roof abatement once the demolition is eminent.
“This will save the County a tremendous amount of money, but this money will go away soon if the County doesn’t move forward,” said Overstreet.
If the County does not complete the project, it could be responsible for reimbursing DEQ for expenses incurred to date on the project.
Overstreet pointed out, the Chamber has invested another $47,000 in structural upgrades to stabilize the Public Drug building during the demolition. The demolition of the Merc would provide additional parking in the downtown area and would be owned and maintained by the City. The Chamber also applied for and received a grant to make improvements once the parking lot was completed.
Overstreet reminded the Commissioners of the liability they have with the decrepit building, pointing out drug needles that have been found inside the building, the hole in the roof and in the floor, not to mention the potential damage it will soon be causing to the Chamber’s building if something isn’t done.
County Maintenance Supervisor Shannon Pepion added, “When it rains outside, it rains inside” at the Merc building.
Raemaeker pointed out City police officers have issues with people crawling onto the Merc roof, “which is extremely spongy,” from the adjacent apartments.
“We know it is a liability issue, I don’t have an answer for you,” said Chairman Michael DesRosier.
“The money issue is a big thing for us right now,” he told those at the meeting. “We’re at the point we’re counting our nickels and dimes to keep the county operating and the doors open.”
DesRosier stated, “We’re really pressed to come up with more…I’m not sure where the grant money is, but we could give you the $7,000.” He later suggested, “We could turn the property over to the Chamber and Port Authority if they are interested.”
Overstreet reminded the Commissioners the Chamber has already invested over $100,000 of its own money, as well as hundreds of thousands in grant and in-kind funding, on the project already. “We can’t afford to take on the County’s responsibility.”
The potential buyers are “gun shy” to proceed since the demolition of the building “was eminent nearly four years ago” and no progress has been made since that time, said Overstreet. “The potential influx of money is huge if the building sale goes through. The potential buyers’ financing has been approved and they will be investing close to a half a million dollars and using local contractors. This is huge for our community.”
She continued, “When this happens this will be a huge win for the County, the Chamber, the City and DEQ–there are lots of players watching this project. But there must be forward progress or the buyer will move on to another location.”
The Commissioners, while not making a formal motion, stated they will contact their engineering firm and take steps to contract with a firm to perform the needed Geo-Technical Study.
Overstreet said she has been trying for the past three years to move the project forward by contacting then Clerk and Recorder Glenda Hall, Human Resources Director Mike Kittson and most recently, interim Chief Financial Officer Chancy Kittson with no response. She asked who would be the County’s contact on the project.
DesRosier said he would take on that responsibility, and fellow Commissioner John Overcast said he would “keep the fire under” DesRosier. Commissioner Tom McKay added, they would all be responsible to see the project moves forward. He also suggested this be a priority on the County’s Capital Improvement Plan.
DesRosier concluded the meeting stating County officials would contact their engineering firm later in the day to determine if it is qualified to do the study or seek their assistance in finding a qualified firm.