Wilson questions free rent for Rep. Schmidt

Batavia office space discussed at first meeting

Congresswoman Jean Schmidt may be looking for a new office in Batavia after newly elected Clermont County Commissioner Archie Wilson questioned the need to spend county funds on the house at 175 West Main Street.

Wilson said at his first Commissioners’ meeting Wednesday, Jan. 5 that he had spoken to several county residents who felt the Congresswoman did not fully utilize the building. The county provides 267 square feet of office space in the house at no charge to the Congresswoman. She has not paid rent or utilities costs for the building, however her office said she does pay for a phone line at the office.

The building formerly housed the Transportation Improvement District, which relocated to the Engineer’s Office in December. Currently the building houses necessary equipment for the Clermont County Communications office on the second floor in addition to Schmidt’s office.

“We have money invested in this building already so I’m sure our up keep on this is in the thousands of dollars,” Wilson said. “We’ve got people in here going without.”

Wilson said it was his understanding the building was used once or twice a month by the Congresswoman and her staff and he felt the funds spent on up keep of the building could be better used in other areas.

“If you’re just using this building to have your sign hanging front of here,” Wilson said, “why should each tax payer pay for a building that no one uses?”

Congresswoman Jean Schmidt’s office at 175 East Main Street was the topic of discussion at the first Clermont County Commissioner’s meeting of 2011. The building is owned by the county and has been used rent-free by former Congressman Rob Portman and current Congresswoman Jean Schmidt.
Spokesman for Jean Schmidt Bruce Pfaff said the Batavia office is used as a satellite office for Schmidt’s Kenwood office. He said the Congresswoman’s field representatives staff the office once or twice a week according to their individual schedules. Schmidt uses the office to meet with local government officials when she is in the district. Pfaff said the office is also used for case work meetings for constituents who have social security issues or questions about veterans’ benefits and who cannot meet at either the Cincinnati office or the Portsmouth office.

The Commissioners discussed the fact that the office had been used by Schmidt’s predecessor Rob Portman.

“The Commissioners originally invited the Congresswoman to use the same office because they liked her to have a presence in the community,” Pfaff said. “The space was provided rent free as a courtesy to the taxpayers. My understanding is the building has to have electricity and heat whether the Congresswoman is there or not.”

Board of Commissioners 2011 President Ed Humphrey agreed.

“Certainly we’d like to maintain as good a relationship with our Congresswoman as we can,” Humphrey said.

Clermont County administrator Dave Spinney said operation and upkeep expenses for the entire building were $17,600 for 2009, and he prorated the Congresswoman’s portion of the building at $2,261 for the year. In addition to electricity and heating, Spinney said the costs included any upkeep performed, which was minor in 2009. In the past few years the county has made improvements to the roof, plumbing, and landscaping for the building, improvements that Spinney said would be expected of any property owner.

The house is on a list of buildings owned by the county that a recent county study determined were less efficient to operate. Spinney said the the study, performed by county architects and engineers, recommended disposing of several county properties. He has been working with the county facilities manager to develop a plan for vacating the properties and the first property he will recommend be vacated in 2011 is the County Coroner’s Office, which would move from a former bank on West Main Street in Batavia to the Heritage Building behind the County Administrative Building on South Riverside Drive. The second floor of the Congresswoman’s office will likely be vacated this year as well.

“We have some technical issues to work out but we would like to get out of the second floor of that building,” Spinney said. “Mr. Wilson is pretty much on to what has been identified already for us as we’ve had our engineers look at facilities.”

He said there were several issues to consider and he was unsure if the commissioners would be interested in selling the vacated properties. The house was purchased by the county along with two adjacent properties, and Spinney said he was unsure of how the properties were deeded. He said the current real estate market may not be optimal either.

Wilson suggested that if they did ask the congresswoman to leave the building they could rent another office in Batavia for her to use.

“With all the office space available on Main Street we could rent her a building for that relationship cheaper than we can maintain this one,” Wilson said.

Pfaff said Schmidt was currently reviewing her options to see what is available and has not officially made a decision to leave her current Batavia office.

“The congresswoman wants to have a presence in that part of the county for her constituents that can’t get to Cincinnati or Portsmouth,” Pfaff said. “She is working to decide what would best serve the community at the best possible cost.”

Pfaff said the congresswoman has received offers from other areas for office space.

“We will always support local governments in their efforts to save money,” Pfaff said.