Feb. 23—Butler County Coroner Dr. Lisa Mannix was able to save around $50,000 renegotiating a new five-year lease for the county morgue space in Hamilton.
The county commissioners approved a new $3,651 monthly lease which amounts to $43,815 annually with Neyer Properties on Monday. The old $69,000 yearly lease expires at the end of the month and the county inked a new five-year deal with a built-in 2.5% annual increase.
"I think with this lease the taxpayers are getting a fair deal," Mannix told the Journal-News. "A cost savings is always good, but it's the most fair deal we've had in that space."
Coroner's Office Administrator Martin Schneider, who negotiated the new agreement, said because they also pay a shared common area cost for things like outside maintenance and utilities that fluctuates, the overall savings will be $40,000 to $50,000 over the life of the lease.
Officials said negotiating a reduced lease rate is pretty atypical, but Schneider said experience he gained working for a commercial real estate management company during the Great Recession helped.
"I was able to take this experience and put it to good use by pointing out similar class buildings in similar parts of the county and what the costs of those may be," Schneider said. "I made it known that we would not settle for anything beyond fair market value for our space."
The county has been leasing the warehouse space since 2003 for the morgue and almost since Mannix was elected in 2012, she has been seeking space that could house both the morgue and the coroner's administrative offices. The morgue is located on Fairgrove Avenue in Hamilton and the coroner's administrative offices are on the sixth floor of the Government Services Center — about a mile and a half away.
"We have nice facilities, but for efficiency it would be nice to have the administrative offices and the morgue together," Mannix said previously. "It would eliminate duplication, it would improve communication, so first off is office efficiency, secondly the morgue currently is in leased space."
Back in 2016 when the base lease cost was $60,000, Mannix went shopping for new morgue space because she felt the square-footage cost was too high. Finding adequate morgue space, however, can be tricky because special equipment — like operating room lights, an in-floor scale, a refrigerator, a sally port and flooring that can tolerate spills — is required.
In 2019 the commissioners granted permission for Mannix to seek a single location for her operation, but they asked her to work with County Administrator Judi Boyko to see if any other unused county spaces might work.
"We are always looking for opportunities to consolidate county owned property," Boyko said. "There is no existing county-owned facility that logistically, from a geographic location that really fits her needs."
Schneider said they have an older estimate of $1 to $3 million to build a new coroner's facility. Commissioner T.C. Rogers told the Journal-News since the county erased its general fund debt last year they have around $10 million to invest in
"We are refocusing now, if we can get past this pandemic we're going to look at our space needs and see how we can rearrange our assets to the most optimum use," Rogers said. "That's what we'll be doing here in the next few months."
Butler County morgue:
New annual lease cost: $43,815 with 2.5% annual increase
Previous lease: $69,000
Cost savings of the new lease: $40,000 to $50,000
Lease term: 5 years