County government has big real estate questions in 2018

Lycoming County government owns a courthouse in Williamsport, which is pretty standard for a county seat.

It also owns a Third Street Plaza across the street in one direction and an Executive Plaza across an alley in another direction, and the Lysock View complex off Warrensville Road.

Does the county need all these facilities? Could the services within them be consolidated in fewer buildings? What is the potential market in terms of organizations and usage for the buildings?

The Lycoming County commissioners are spending $16,900 to find out those and other answers in the next three months. Barton Associates is being paid that much to evaluate the four buildings and give the commissioners an idea of the long-term capital costs associated with maintaining each building.

In our view, maintaining each building is only part of the equation. Which ones may be parted with and how services may be consolidated and maintained in fewer buildings is the larger answer looming.

“We believe that the county owns too much office space, and we’re looking to narrow our choice of which building or buildings we might get rid of,” Commissioner Jack McKernan said.

That sums up what should be the end game of all this. Sale of one or more of these buildings would create fresh revenue for the county and reduce operations costs.

Both of those things need to happen. County government has been operating at a deficit most years recently, melting its surplus down considerably. That can’t continue.

One of the quickest ways to turn around the operations ledger sheet is to reduce the number of buildings or facilities that need to be maintained. The commissioners already have hinted at a decision this year on whether the White Deer Golf Complex can be maintained as a fiscal county asset or whether it would make more sense to sell it to private concerns.

That decision also is part of the practical puzzle regarding real estate that the commissioners must solve in 2018.

Correct decisions and positive results on the real estate questions could substantially alter the Lycoming County government budget landscape in a positive way.