Kane County board votes against using COVID-19 money for a new health building, for now

The Kane County Board on Wednesday effectively squelched a proposal to build a new headquarters and programming facility for the health department by deciding not to spend federal COVID-19 relief money on it.

The board voted 20-1, with one abstention and two members absent, to not spend $6.5 million to start site and building planning. County officials estimate the project overall would have cost $39 million.

The proposal called for using a total of about $18 million of the federal American Rescue Plan Act funds the county received.

Roger Fahnestock, the county’s executive director of information technology and buildings management, had said that even if the planning started now, the county board probably wouldn’t get the plans until December, which is when a new county board will be seated.

District 19 board member Mohammad Iqbal said it was unlikely the county could get the building finished and contracts paid out by the end of 2025, when the ARPA funds expire.

District 14 board member Mark Davoust said, “The sense of urgency that has come to bear on us is this federal ticking clock of ARPA money.”

He likened it to a family deciding it couldn’t afford a major purchase, then changing its mind because it has a coupon.

“If you take the ‘coupon’ (ARPA money) out of it, this is not the way that we would approach a project like this, and it shouldn’t be,” Davoust said.

The proposal suggested the 48,000-square-foot building could have been built on the Kane County Judicial Center campus in unincorporated St. Charles.

Proponents said administrative functions could have been moved out of the department’s Aurora facility. It also would have allowed growth in programming and a return to pre-2010 staffing levels.

Several residents told the board a new building isn’t necessary. Some suggested the county buy an existing building. Fahnestock said the county has looked but not found anything suitable.

Board members asked about the risk of using the federal money, which is supposed to be used on matters related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

If the county built the building using ARPA money and the Treasury Department later determined it didn’t qualify, the federal government could order the county to pay back the money, according to an accounting consultant hired by the county.

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