A move planned for the Fresno County Recorder’s Office could trigger a game of musical chairs at the Fresno County Hall of Records.
The county hasn’t modernized many buildings and offices in decades. The most recent new building, the new coroner’s facility southwest of Malaga, was finished in 2011.
Regardless of the intentions of county supervisors, funding and limited space challenges remain. And funding limitations are causing some supervisors to reconsider instituting a developer impact fee.
But for the Recorder’s Office, money isn’t an issue.
Fresno County Assessor-Recorder Paul Dictos is looking at new downtown digs at 1649 Van Ness Ave., a 17,400-square-foot building with free parking on a single floor. Built in 1975, it was previously the site of the investigative branch of the Internal Revenue Service, which moved to other downtown Fresno offices last fall.
Negotiations are just getting under way, county officials say. The asking price for the building is $2.85 million.
To pay for the building, Dictos has reserve funds, money that returns to the department from sales of documents.
Dictos says he thinks the move to a single-story site will reduce the consistent stream of customer complaints about parking tickets from overstays at meters, elevator problems and difficulties managing children climbing to a third-floor office.
300The number of daily customers at the Recorder’s Office
The Recorder’s Office has 27 employees. They oversee property records and birth, marriage and death certificates. The office probably has as many customers as any office at the Hall of Records. Other than tax bill season in April and December, Dictos estimates that 75 percent of the customers entering the Tulare and M streets building visit the Recorder’s Office.
“Over 300 people come to the office every day,” he said.
An added benefit to the move is having space for historical documents now in storage so a customer won’t have to go to a warehouse for research.
The Assessor’s Office will stay on the second floor at the Hall of Records because of interaction customers require with the Tax Collector’s first-floor offices.
Dictos said it will likely take about a year for his office to move.
He said improvements to meet the county’s specifications will likely cost another $1 million or more, on top of the sales prices being negotiated.
The departure of the Recorder’s Office from 9,000 square feet on the third floor could cause a ripple effect on other third-floor offices and eventually lead to expansion of the Board of Supervisors’ chambers.
But the Recorder’s Office may not be the only county department on the move.
Information technology workers, who have been split among several venues, are expected to move in the coming months. County officials are examining a Pelco office complex site in Clovis where all workers could be in one location.
Similar to the Recorder’s Office, the Information Technology Services division also has funding from fees it charges.
Meanwhile, a new $88 million jail project will open in 2019 with 90 percent funding from the state. The new jail facility will replace the South Annex Jail at the southwest corner of Fresno and M streets.
Other departments still are waiting for their moving days to be scheduled.
The sheriff’s substation at Shields and Clovis avenues, which is leased, also will be moved when the county secures enough funding. Sheriff Margaret Mims says her preferred site is at Belmont and Armstrong avenues.
The county also has allocated $3 million to build a new Fresno County animal shelter.
$88 millionPrice of the new Fresno County Jail annex
The District Attorney’s Office continues to be in the market for new offices in downtown Fresno, and the Coroner’s Office needs an office/administration building, which was left off the plans when the new morgue was built.
For years, the county has lacked funding for projects, and that hasn’t changed, said Robert Bash, the county’s General Services director.
The county last week agreed to put its old juvenile hall up for sale and set a minimum bid of $4.4 million. A sale will require a move by probation employees and information technology workers.
Supervisors also have been trying to sell all or part of the Elkhorn Boot Camp to finance new projects. A minimum price is proposed at about $5.8 million, but the board is awaiting a study on opportunities for a water recharge basin.
The animal shelter is being paid for with money refunded by the state because the county paid costs for state-mandated programs during the recession. The sheriff’s substation and district attorney’s projects also got partial funding through the same refund.
After the move
Once the Recorder’s Office moves, there will be a significant vacancy on the Hall of Records’ third floor. The other third-floor tenants are the County Clerk’s Office, the Board of Supervisors and their employees and the County Administrative Office, all of which could expand to fill the empty space. When the Recorder’s Office leaves, about 30 employees will remain on the third floor.
Additionally, the supervisors’ chambers, also on the third floor, are much smaller than those in other Valley communities.
Fresno County’s board room has capacity for only 100. When meetings fill up with county staff, residents are relegated to standing and waiting in the lobby until their agenda items are raised.
“I think people don’t come to our meetings, and (the chambers) has to be one of the reasons,” Board Chairman Buddy Mendes said.
It was like moving mountains to bring electricity up there. Our infrastructure and public accommodations are woefully behind the times.
Andreas Borgeas, Fresno County supervisor
Madera and Kings counties, each about one-sixth the population of Fresno County, and Kern County, which has a slightly smaller population than Fresno, all have larger board room capacity. Madera’s board chambers has capacity for 280 and Kern’s is 256. Kings, with a population of 150,000, has occupancy for 125. Fresno City Council chambers accommodates 250.
Most supervisors say the chambers and offices for staff and technology are sorely lacking. They would like to see a change but recognize the county has other priorities first.
Supervisor Andreas Borgeas said the county needs to evaluate all the property it owns that isn’t being used. He also would consider reinstituting county developer fees. He is not alone.
Return of developer fees?
Supervisor Henry R. Perea also said the county should reconsider the fees, which were eliminated by a 3-2 vote last year.
The county collected about $780,000 in fees from 2008 to 2010. A Fresno Bee analysis conducted in 2014 found that if the county hadn’t suspended the fees between 2010 and 2014, it would have collected $21.7 million to pay for expanded services and larger facilities needed because of population growth.
The fee was discounted in 2008 and 2009 in all 15 cities and unincorporated areas. In 2010, the fee was expected to return to 100 percent, but it was suspended when the economy soured and was to remain so until the economy improved. However, the fees were never restored.
Perea, who plans to leave office at the end of the year, said the county will need a “space plan” to decide the best uses for vacant offices.
“I would think about expanding the CAO and board operations, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t more offices that wouldn’t benefit from it, too,” he said. “Because of the parking issues we have around the Hall of Records, I would not want to have a department that attracts heavy foot traffic.”
Borgeas said he doesn’t know of a city or county that doesn’t impose developer impact fees.
“We can’t let these impact fees go away without a very clear understanding of the consequences,” he said.
If there are people who are waiting to bond and borrow money I certainly hope they wait until after Dec. 31, because I will fight it every step of the way.
Debbie Poochigian, Fresno County supervisor
But other supervisors are concerned with the way the fees were structured.
Mendes, who was the deciding vote to eliminate fees, said he is willing to take a new look as long as the county rearranges the structure in a way he supports.
Supervisor Debbie Poochigian, who leaves office in 10 months, remains staunchly opposed to the fees. She sees no need to revise the supervisors’ chambers and offices.
“I have a very nice office with plenty of space,” she said. “I never thought of the board room as small, and it’s rare that it’s completely full.”
If supervisors propose a return of developer fees, she said, they’ll do so without her.
“If there are people who are waiting to bond and borrow money I certainly hope they wait until after Dec. 31, because I will fight it every step of the way,” she said.