When safety risks at a government facility are so commonplace every worker knows about them, its time to spend money on upgrades.
This was the message Oneida County Highway commissioner Bruce Stefonek presented to the Capital Improvement Program Subcommittee at a meeting Thursday.
As previously reported, the highway department's shop on Kemp Street in Rhinelander was assessed by Milwaukee based Barrientos Design and Consulting to have various flaws in dire need of maintenence.
These include problems with electricity, heating, plumbing and the structural integrity of the 1950s era building.
According to Stefonek, fuel tanks at the facility also have serious issues.
"We have to bring the fuel system up to specifications. If there were to be a spill by our pumps, there's no way to contain it. Gasoline is obviously very flammable so there could be a problem there," Stefonek said.
On the site's current gasoline storage tanks, there is supposed to be a valve which - in the event of an emergency - can be used to instantly stop the disbursement of fuel.
This valve is not present.
A document Stefonek distributed during the meeting warned costs associated with fixing the issue could increase if not dealt with by 2020. When this year hits, the department will be in violation of newly revised state codes for motor vehicle fueling facilities.
Due to the department being uniquely funded from a mix of federal and state sources and having more than $400,000 on hand to handle any surprise expenses, subcommittee member Billy Fried was puzzled about why Stefonek was even running the matter by the group.
"If there's something currently that's a code violation and you have $400,000 in an account for buildings, is there a reason it's not addressed immediately?" he asked. "Doesn't the highway department have the ability to go into those funds and use them to address these issues?"
In response, Stefonek noted his department was obligated to bring any projects costing over $25,000 through committee for review under the capital improvement program.
Subcommittee member Jack Sorensen reacted to this news, stating that committees were becoming a part of the bureaucracy which hinders people from getting things done and voiced concerns about liabilities.
"These safety issues bother me," he said. "It's additional exposure if something goes wrong. I was surprised our insurance carriers aren't looking at some of this stuff and asking why it hasn't been taken care of."
As Stefonek's presentation concluded, subcommittee chairman Robb Jensen expressed support for the upgrades, but questioned whether they'd be worth it in the long run, likening it to replacing parts on an automobile.
"If nothing happens to the building in five years we've got to do these things," he said. "But its like a car, if the transmission goes, is it worth it to replace it or just get a new car?"
Evan J. Pretzer may be reached via email at email@example.com.