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The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors has agreed to delay acquisition of a new county government center until a concrete financing plan can be brought forward in early March.

Supervisors zeroed in on the old 7.24-acre Sears property in downtown Santa Rosa last summer to house county facilities, not to include the sheriff’s office, jail, or courthouse.

The current County Government Center, located on County Center Drive in Santa Rosa, includes 26 departments that oversee health and safety, parks, hospitals, transportation systems, homeless services, agriculture, sanitation and the environment.

Every supervisor agreed that the current center needs to be overhauled, citing the growth of government over the last 60 years, aging facilities, and growing costs such as deferred maintenance to the tune of $660 million, according to County General Services director Caroline Judy.

The need for more space has also led to the need for the leasing of commercial office space, another expense.

The Sears site has a purchase price of $20.75 million, with estimated annual costs ranging from $39 to $55 million per year in annual contractor payments, also known as availability payments.

Financial questions abound

Resident Jonathan Greenberg told the supervisors that he used to be a policy director in New York City and that “This will be the most unpopular thing you guys have done.”

Greenberg said that the current site of the government center is where it should remain and that the traffic created by the proposed site will be a “nightmare.”

Another resident, Blake Cooper, said that he “strongly advocated” for the move and that it will “save a lot of money in the long run.”

Supervisor David Rabbitt said that the county will never vote on an item this large, and that any decision should be made thoughtfully.

“I’m being asked to sign a blank check for what is at best a concept and what is at worst a fantasy.”

Supervisor Lynda Hopkins

“Today it is a $21 million dollar decision, but it’s really not that,” he said. “It’s a $1.64 billion dollar decision that we’re making if we follow through.”

Rabbit said he feared that acquiring the building without knowing all the financial details and forecasts could saddle the county with an “empty dirt lot” if total project costs are not taken into consideration ahead of time.

Supervisor Lynda Hopkins repeatedly quipped that the project as stated so far had been giving her “heartburn.”

“I’m being asked to sign a blank check for what is at best a concept and what is at worst a fantasy,” she said.

Judy told the supervisors that they could pause their decision until after more financial information is given to them, but that “anytime you pause, it does deliver a message to the other party, and that’s something to consider as well. ”

The seller in question would be SPS Portfolio Holdings LLC.

The supervisors will take up discussion on acquiring the property and other fiscal impacts at its March 1 meeting, at which time a financial report and projected costs will also have been put together.