Stanislaus County leaders couldn't stomach paying $180,000 for a portable building on land they already own, but agreed on a split vote Tuesday to come up with $125,000.
The modular building will allow public works offices to consolidate at the department's property west of Ceres, a consultant suggested in a master plan that envisions $48 million of improvements over two decades.
Supervisor Bill O'Brien questioned the wisdom of using rapidly shrinking road money for new offices while the county lays off employees and residents call to complain about lousy streets.
"We need every penny on roads," O'Brien said.
Public works director Matt Machado agreed that the $180,000 request was extravagant, saying bids are coming in at half that amount. But the new office will need furniture, computer wiring and ramps, he said.
Supervisor Jim DeMartini suggested lowering the award to $100,000, starting a round of public dickering. Machado countered with a request for $140,000, DeMartini recommended $125,000 and the other supervisors agreed, except for O'Brien.
A slideshow presentation showed a one-story portable with dimensions of 15,950 square feet, but was labeled as having 32,764 square feet. Machado did not return calls seeking clarification.
The median home price in Stanislaus County hovered between $133,000 and $140,000 in the 18 months preceding June, when a report showed a rebound to $148,000.
The public works master plan requires 18 employees to leave offices at the county's Tenth Street Place headquarters in downtown Modesto. They work in public works' administrative, engineering, geographic information systems and surveying jobs.
Vacating 4,500 square feet downtown should save $30,000 a year, if City Hall absorbs that space, a report reads. But officials said Tuesday the county fire warden's office might move into that space.
Consolidating on Morgan Road property should solve some communication struggles and make the department more efficient, Machado said. However, his transit administrators and one engineer would remain at Tenth Street Place to preserve one-stop convenience for some customers.
The county already spent $12,000 to move other modular units to the Morgan Road site from the department's yards in Patterson and Oakdale. Those locations would be built up again in later phases of the 20-year plan.
The plan calls for $42 million worth of improvements to the Morgan Road site alone, including several new buildings and maintenance shops.
Because the county's population will grow, the department should expect to expand its building space by 160 percent and hire 93 new workers, an increase of 77 percent, over two decades, the study suggests.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2390.