Kern County supervisors voted 4-1 Tuesday to add $2.3 million to the budget for a new county Information Technology building on Mt. Vernon Avenue and authorized construction to begin.
But to match the budget to the project's pricetag, they had to chop $2.95 million out of the $15.3 million bid that local construction firm S.C. Anderson submitted to win the contract.
Those cuts mean the building will be constructed as little more than a shell and operated indefinitely with minimal staffing.
Supervisors can allocate more money to the project in coming years -- perhaps even before construction is finished.
Until they do, the new building will only house computer servers and the few workers needed to tend them. The rest of the IT staff will continue to work from space in the basement of the Kern County Civic Center Justice Building at 1215 Truxtun Ave.
Supervisors had earlier this year discussed redesigning the proposed building.
But Supervisor David Couch said Tuesday the $1.7 million the county has already sunk into designing and biddng the project would be lost if supervisors decided on a redesign.
"None of us are thrilled about this situation, I think that is clear," said Supervisor Leticia Perez.
Supervisor Mike Maggard noted that the building was designed in 2009 during a time when county finances were more optimistic and plans for more artful buildings like the Frazier Park Library were being drawn up. The library was built in 2011.
County officials have acknowledged that when an engineer's estimates for the cost of the building came in at $16.3 million, they only had $11.5 million in the bank. They should have developed plans then for dealing with that shortfall before taking bids on the project.
Maggard demanded that the Kern County General Services Department deliver effective plans for avoiding such a system failure in the future.
Jeff Frapwell, assistant county administrative officer for General Services, told Maggard he is working on revisions to county policy documents to show the board for review within two months.
In another major decision, Maggard, in his authority as chairman, appointed a six-member committee of former public officials, and corporate and health care leaders to investigate the financial situation at Kern Medical Center and develop solutions.
Former Kern County Supervisor Barbara Patrick, current chair of the governing board at Kern Health Systems, and retired Congressman Bill Thomas, who made his name handling health care legislation as the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, will be on the committee.
They will be joined by Bolthouse Properties President Tony Leggi; Gene Voiland,, retired CEO of local petroleum giant Aera Energy; Dr. Ravi Patel of the Comprehensive Blood and Cancer Center and Steve Schilling,, CEO of Clinica Sierra Vista.
Maggard said the committee will deliver regular reports to him, which he will pass on to the board and the public.
Also Tuesday, Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood withdrew his support for a $77.3 million state grant to replace the minimum security barracks at Lerdo Jail.
"We believe that this is the right thing to do at the wrong time," Youngblood told the supervisors.
Youngblood said he changed his mind after discovering other departments would have to cut programs and employees to find the money to staff the new jail beds.
Kern County has already been awarded a state grant to build a new medium-maximum security wing at Lerdo that will cost the county at least $10 million in one-time money and $20 million in annual operational costs.
Similar costs would have been added to the county's financial burden by the grant process to replace the tattered minimum-security barracks at Lerdo.
The state grant would have accelerated the construction timeline and put Kern County on the hook for $20 million in ongoing operational costs.
Supervisors also voted to grant a six-month extension to a contract between Employers Training Resource and the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation.
The MAOF has, for more than 30 years, helped people turn their lives around through mentoring, job training and educational counseling.
But Daniel Smith, the new director of ETR, is pushing MAOF to get accredited though the state of California for a new program and had rejected requests to extend its funding while it worked toward certification.
Supervisors overruled Smith's repeated protests that funding MAOF without the accreditation would put the county at legal risk.
County Counsel Theresa Goldner said the risk was not significant.
Supervisor Perez, who grew up in east Bakersfield, said she knew children who grew up in rough homes who now -- as adults -- have turned their lives around with the help of MAOF.
Other supervisors agreed.