County looks at Oakhill finances

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When Mahoning County officials purchased the old Southside Hospital in 2006, it spent $75,000 for the property, but on Tuesday, it was revealed how much has been spent since then.

Even before Oakhill Renaissance Place was purchased out of bankruptcy, there have been critics of the idea who claimed the county would end up spending huge sums of tax dollars for remodeling work,  as well as needed repairs, while supporters insisted those expenses would be offset by lease payments from tenants of the building.

On Tuesday morning, workers with the Mahoning County Auditor’s Office told Commissioners and members of the county Building Commission that more than $14.5 million has been borrowed to pay for improvements at Oakhill.

“When you look at our borrowing, with the interest and the principle, we’re looking close to $20 million,” said deputy county auditor Carol McFall.

The county has $7,000 remaining in earmarked funds for renovating the former Southside Hospital, which has been converted into a government office building.

Right now, Oakhill is about 40 percent occupied, but Commissioners said at this point, it doesn’t make any sense to spend more tax dollars moving other county departments into the facility.

“To bring them to the Renassiance would be very expensive and right now we can’t afford that, so at this point there isn’t any more money for this building. We’re just gonna try to get through this,” said Commissioner Carol Righetti.

Auditors claim the county is now spending upwards of $1.5 million a year just to pay the annual debt service on the money that’s been borrowed.  Commissioners said they are looking for non-profit agencies that would be willing to move into Oakhill  at their own expense to help offset some of that debt.

Commissioners said the majority of the financial responsibility falls on the county’s general fund. They said they’re trying to avoid make the Oakhill debt worse.

Two possible tenants, Purple Cat’s Golden String cafeteria and CompCare care, are currently negotiating with the county to move into Oakhill.

“There isn’t any more money for this building,” commissioner Carol Rimedio-Righetti said. “We’re just going to try to get through this couple years at a level with trying to, and I’m not saying it’ll never happen because unforeseen things do come up, but try to get a flat across the board, no loans, no bonds.”

The debate over Oakhill extends back to 2010, when then-county-administrator George Tablack criticized those who claimed million in tax dollars were being wasted on Oakhill.

Tablack and others insisted the rent paid to non-county owned buildings would cover costs. McFall, however, said now only a quarter of the space is being occupied. Among the tenants are the county’s Board of Elections, who don’t pay rent at the building.

“On its face, this is not a fair representation under governmental accounting standards,” Tablack said in 2010.

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