More than a year ago, Douglas County commissioners purchased the property at 822 Douglas Street that was formerly First Lutheran Church.

Since that time, the commissioners looked into not only remodeling but also the possibility of renting the facility out or even demolishing it, but the project has not moved forward. Until now.

At the Tuesday, Aug. 4, regular board meeting, Board Chairman Keith Englund said that the board received another estimate for remodeling the space and that it came in lower than the first estimate.

In June 2019, JLG Architects provided a rough estimate of between $4.3 million and $5.2 million to renovate the church into space for what would have been used by the Social Services department.

Plans for the building have since changed and the estimate, which Englund said the commissioners received on Monday, Aug. 3, came in at about $3.8 million.

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The county is now planning to use the space for the auditor/treasurer’s office, central finance, coordinator’s office, which includes human resources, as well as for a new county board meeting space.

Englund said the board was going to move ahead with approving the renovation project, but was reminded by County Coordinator Heather Schlangen that the commissioners were going to ask for public input.

Schlangen was directed to ask the architectural firm, Buetow 2 Architects Inc., of Minneapolis, to draw up some blueprints for what the space could look like and that when those drawings were done, the board would set a date for an open house for the public to comment and also take tours of the facility.

Additionally, the commissioners thought that funds from the CARES Act could help pay for the remodeling project, but found out that wasn’t the case.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, provides assistance for state, local and tribal governments. It provides money to help navigate through the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak. The CARES Act established the $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund.

Char Rosenow, the Douglas County auditor/treasurer, said the ball got rolling again on the project because it was initially thought that the county could use the CARES Act funding, but after more research, found out that it was not a valid use of the funds.

Because the timeframe for using the CARES Act money is at the end of December, the county, at first, was putting a rush on the plans. However, Englund said, “We will slow down to make the right decisions.”

It is expected that the public open house for the former church building will be within the next month.

Budget requests

Salary and budget requests were presented to the commissioners from each of the elected officials at Tuesday’s meeting.

Nothing was approved at this point as the budget process is in the beginning stages, but all four elected officials requested pay raises.

  • Douglas County Attorney Chad Larson asked for a 4% increase – from $122,400 per year to $127,300.

  • Douglas County Record Mary Skillings asked for a 2.5% increase – from $63,000 per year to $64,580.

  • Douglas County Auditor/Treasurer Char Rosenow, who is also the finance director, asked for a 5% percent increase – from $116,000 to $121,800.

  • Douglas County Sheriff Troy Wolbersen asked for a 4% increase – from $122,400 to $127,300.

Although it is still very early in the game, Rosenow said the general budget could see an increase of 2.33%, but said it is still being worked on and revisions are still being made.

Englund was quite pleased with the initial number and said, “We’re starting out much better this year.”