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Missoula County moves into new elections center; renovations ahead

Posted at 2:52 PM, Nov 18, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-18 16:52:21-05

Less than a week after employees of the Missoula County Elections Center oversaw the race for City Council, they packed up and headed to a new home on Russell Street.

County commissioners in March agreed to a $1.87 million deal to purchase the property at 140 N. Russell St. to serve as the new elections center. The transaction closed in September, and on Thursday commissioners approved the lease-purchase agreement.

The project’s total budget is roughly $3.4 million.

“This is an agreement with First Security Bank for the lease-purchase agreement to cover that cost, plus an additional $1 million for any improvements,” said Andrew Czorny, the county’s chief financial officer. “The lease purchase is allowed under state statute for counties and municipalities.”

Under the terms, Czorny said, 100% of the lease payments will go toward purchase of the property. But there’s an interest rate associated with it, which comes at 3.35% percent over 20 years.

“At the end of 20 years, we will own the property,” he said.

Vickie Zeier, the county’s former elections supervisor who now serves as its chief administrative officer, said the elections office currently uses space at both the Missoula County Courthouse and the fairgrounds.

The courthouse is short on parking, making it necessary for the county to hold elections at the fairgrounds, which offers more room. But even there, she said, the elections center is spread across several buildings, making it difficult for election operations.

The building now owned by the county was formerly occupied by the Western Montana Mental Health Center. It includes 7,700 square feet of space across several floors. The county estimates it will cost around $500,000 to renovate the property.

The ground floor will accommodate non-election events, while the basement will be used to tabulate ballots. The upper level will be used to process ballots.

But the property also includes 64,400 square feet of land and a warehouse, which will also need renovations. The warehouse will accommodate other county services, including the Office of Emergency Management and use by the sheriff’s department.

“I think it’s important that while we call it an elections center, it’s going to be used by OEM and the sheriff’s office for training,” said Zeier. “It’s really important to point out that there will be more functions in that building than just elections.”

The purchase will result in annual debt service payments of $139,600 for 20 years. The county plans to levy around .63 mills to cover the purchase.