Opinion Columns & Blogs

County is saving rent as promised

When I first moseyed into town nearly five years ago to cover county government, one of my first stops, of course, was at the new county government center across from the courthouse.

I knew the place had just opened, but at the time, I knew nothing of the politics, cost overruns, litigation and the like that surrounded its appearance in the center of town.

But a reader with a longer memory than mine has written to ask if a county promise made at the time — that taxpayers would save a bundle when county employees moved into the new center and stopped paying rent on outlying buildings — has panned out.

She has her doubts.

“When the new SLO County Government center was built a few years ago it was quoted, by the county, that an expected $500,000 per year would be saved in rental fees,” our reader wrote.

“As I walk around San Luis Obispo, I see MANY offices being rented by the County so I am wondering if this $500,000 per year goal has been met.”

Good question. So I asked Caryn Maddalena, real property manager for the county’s General Services Agency.

She crunched the numbers and verified that, yes indeed, the county has saved $485,000 a year since then. I’m no good at math. What is that — 2.5 million bucks?

According to Maddalena, before the center opened, eight county departments leased 26,000 square feet around town at $485,000 annually.

When the new building opened, some departments in the county Courthouse and elsewhere moved into it, and others, like a younger sibling inheriting big brother’s sweatshirt, moved into space vacated by departments that moved into the new building.

This doesn’t mean that the county is out of the business of renting space.

The county rents the building at Monterey and Toro streets for the Department of Child Support Services, for example. The program is operated through the state of California.

And it leases space in both North County and South County, as it must.

Some of the office space our alert reader sees filled with county employees may be already owned by the county.

For example, the county owns the building at 1144 Monterey St., where code enforcement works, and the Department of Social Services building at Prado and Higuera streets.

So, in this case at least, nobody can kvetch about the county wasting money. It has saved a boodle over five years, if these numbers are accurate, and it has carried out its promise.

As far as the future goes, there should be no further leases.

The new government center and its attendant adjustments throughout the county buildings complex gave the county staff an additional 60,000 square feet of space. It was designed to accommodate government growth into 2030.

The way the economy has been going, the county is going to need less space, not more.

Call Bob Cuddy at 781-7909.