Lewis County officials remain at loggerheads over whether they should construct a new building.

The Watertown architectural firm BCA Architects & Engineers previously designed a proposed structure to replace the 30-year-old Department of Social Services facility near the county Public Safety Building. But six years have passed since then, and members of the Lewis County Board of Legislators have been unable to agree on how to proceed.

The issue has resurfaced again, but legislators still can’t reach a consensus. Some of them want to have new designs drawn up while others believe the older plan still has value.

“District 3 Legislator Ron Burns and Board Chairman District 8 Legislator Lawrence Dolhof said that while they are open to a new building, they’re not convinced the old design would be the best option for what is needed now,” according to a story published Sept. 11 by the Watertown Daily Times. “District 4 Legislator Brian Moser was adamant in his support of building a new building using the old specifications. Mr. Moser said instead of ‘flapping our gums for six months,’ a decision should be made as to whether or not they would move forward with a building. He made a motion to commit to building a new structure. However, the ensuing discussion emphasized the deep division between those who wanted to discuss options before committing to construction and those that wanted to commit to a new building then figure out if the existing design was the best option or not.”

One problem that legislators have foisted upon themselves is their obvious lack of follow-up.

“In a previous capital project workshop, the board decided to form an ad hoc committee to consider the current needs of the various departments and the county as a whole, which would include department heads and members of the public,” the story reported. “However, the committee was never formed.”

Declaring an intention to form such a committee but never actually forming it is a waste of time. If legislators are committed to seeing this idea move forward, they need to act.

If they opt to construct a new facility, they’ll definitely need new designs. Six-year-old plans will simply not suffice. So here’s one choice that should be a no-brainer for them.

Officials need to set a deadline for themselves — let’s say two months from now — to hash out whether they believe a new building is in the county’s best interests. When the deadline runs out, they must hold a vote on whether they should go ahead with this plan or not.

So until then, legislators should decide what questions they want answered and how to explore their options. They have to commit to performing the necessary work before this deadline so that they’ll all have the opportunity to provide input.

When officials reach their deadline, they must make a choice on if this proposal should proceed.

If enough legislators believe a new building is necessary, they should vote “Yes” on the question. Then they’ll have the mandate to move forward.

But if the issue of constructing a new facility lacks majority support, they should end the discussion right there. They can’t keep dithering on this.

Legislators must set a deadline for a decision; determine how much a new building will cost; discuss the pros and cons of both sides; and then vote on the project. If they continue to hem and haw over the plan, another six years will pass without action. This isn’t what good governance looks like.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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