L'ANSE - The Baraga County Board of Commissioners held a special meeting Wednesday intending to approve the purchase of property that would solve the county's storage and space issues, but legal concerns delayed a decision.
Al Hendricks, who owns the former L'Anse Pharmacy building on South Main Street, proposed selling the building to the county, and his accountant Fred Grandchamp presented that proposal to Baraga County Prosecuting Attorney Joseph O'Leary on Friday. Grandchamp expected to finalize the deal Wednesday, but O'Leary had legal concerns he did not have time to address because he has been testifying in a tax-related case in Lansing.
"I expected today that there would be a signature on the document that was provided to Joseph on Friday," said Grandchamp, from Grandchamp, McBride & Prophet Certified Public Accountants, P.C.
Stephen Anderson/Daily Mining Gazette
Accountant Fred Grandchamp listens to a suggestion at the Baraga County Board of Commission-ers special meeting in L’Anse.
Board chair Mike Koskinen told Grandchamp that O'Leary had raised concerns in a phone conversation just 15 minutes before the meeting. O'Leary could not be reached during the meeting because he was flying back from Lansing.
"On the advice of legal counsel, which we talked to at quarter to 4, he said 'Don't.' He has too many questions. That's why we have legal counsel," Koskinen said.
Before the board went into closed session to discuss the matter, Paul Tesanovich rekindled the possibility of the county acquiring the former Baraga County Memorial Hospital building - but in a different way than what county residents strongly voted down twice.
Tesanovich, a former county board member, suggested during the public comment period the possibility of sharing the former hospital building space with the Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College and other possible tenants.
"Three entities stand to have their problems solved with the hospital building: the county for the space they need, the hospital being out from under the cost of demolishing it, and the tribe with its community college," Tesanovich said. "It still seems like a real good option if it can happen."
He also addressed concern that if the county bought a smaller building separate from the courthouse, then important government functions would be split among several facilities.
"My only fear is that the county ends up in the same situation as the hospital is in now," he said. "The courthouse, then a building across the street, then another building somewhere. In the long term if you do this, is that going to solve the problem, and for how long?"
Koskinen said several times the possibility of splitting the facility with or renting from the KBOCC had not been discussed.
Grandchamp followed up by emphasizing that the former L'Anse Pharmacy, a 12,500-square-foot building a block away from the courthouse, would come at a much lower cost to the county.
"You can't beat the price," Grandchamp said. "You're never going to get a better deal on 12,500 square feet of new office space and storage."
Exact costs were not discussed until closed session. The board took no action after ending its 30-minute-long closed session.
"We're not trying to hide anything. It's all going to be public knowledge. It's just that when you're in negotiations we have to go into closed session," Koskinen said in the meeting before going to closed session.
A public decision is expected within a week, according to Baraga County Clerk Wendy Goodreau, who brought the storage issue to the forefront at the April 10 board of commissioners meeting.
"Where this is at right now is the county is looking at other facilities to purchase, and the old hospital is not one of them," Goodreau said after the meeting. "Our goal is to move forward quickly."