A new tag office is in the works for Sedgwick County residents after county commissioners voted 3-2 to purchase the former IRS building in downtown Wichita.
After an executive session on Wednesday, commissioners signed off buying the property at 271 W. Third St. for $5 million to house the main tag office, the Metropolitan Area Building and Construction Department, Metropolitan Area Planning Department, appraiser’s office, environmental resources and Sheriff’s Office’s professional standards unit.
The cost for construction for renovations is estimated at $6,316,896. Furnishings are expected to come in at almost $1.3 million. The county will finance the project with a general obligation to be sold next year.
With transaction costs and interest, the total debt service will be about $18.4 million. The building, appraised by the county at $4,269,800 according to public records, offers 92,372 square feet.
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County Manager William Buchanan said the county is shooting to move into the building by June.
The county has been searching for a while for a new home for the downtown tag office, at 200 W. Murdock, and the new joint city-county building and construction department.
“I am just ecstatic,” said Sedgwick County Treasurer Linda Kizzire. “ I went over to the Murdock tag office and told the employees that we were going to be moving in a few months.
“They are happy, happy, happy. I got some high fives. I got some hugs.”
The former IRS building is more modern, Kizzire said, and will allow staff to have “actual cubicle-style furniture” instead of a chair at a counter.
“Citizens won’t have to park three or four blocks away and walk,” she said. “I think it’s going to just be a wonderful move.”
Commissioner Tim Norton agreed.
“The Murdock tag office is woefully insufficient,” he said during the meeting.
Commissioner Dave Unruh said the former IRS building met many of the county’s needs.
“This fits our requirements for location. The cost per square foot is very reasonable,” Unruh said.
Commissioner Karl Peterjohn expressed concerns about parking at the building and taking the building off the tax rolls. He voted against the purchase.
“Parking was a primary concern because my understanding was that before we went forward we’d get the parking issues resolved,” Peterjohn said after the meeting. “It’s a loose end, and a pretty important loose end.”
Buchanan said the county was working with the city to secure 132 additional parking spaces.
“I don’t believe that’s going to be a problem,” he said.
The building will offer about 90 parking spaces for customers, he said. The additional parking spaces would be for employees.
Peterjohn said he would have liked the parking to have been a done deal before the vote.
Norton said the county shouldn’t plan for “Easter Sunday parking,” saying that there should be sufficient parking in the area for high-traffic days such as the last day of the month when many people renew their vehicle tags.
“There are a lot of pluses for going forward with this including the old Realtor adage, ‘Location, location, location,’” Peterjohn said.
But Peterjohn, who paused for a moment before voting “no,” said he couldn’t support the purchase.
“This is not an investment. This is government spending,” Peterjohn said.
Commissioner Richard Ranzau also opposed the purchase. He said the county could have found a less-expensive option in the Finney State Office Building. He also said he thought the county should have issued a request for proposals for a building.
“I don’t have confidence in the point that got us here,” Ranzau said at the meeting.
Ranzau said he couldn’t vote yes and tell his constituents he was working to save taxpayer money.
The county considered 30 buildings and scored each. Buildings close to the courthouse and City Hall received extra points.
Ranzau said the scoring seemed flawed to him. The three top picks were the former IRS building, the Rounds and Porter building at 400 N. Waco and the Commerce Center at 9229 E. 37th St. North. The latter two were significantly less expensive, Ranzau said, at a total renovation cost of $7.8 million and $7.1 million respectively.
“The criteria seemed to point us in a certain direction,” Ranzau told The Eagle after the meeting. “We didn’t even evaluate the Finney State Office Building, which we could have for free.
“I’m not saying the Finney State Office Building is the answer, but we didn’t evaluate it. I don’t have confidence in the process.”