Tri-Cap aims to buy main Jasper office space

By JOHN SEASLY
Herald Staff Writer

After years of renting office locations in Dubois County, Tri-Cap is looking to buy the space on Third Avenue in Jasper that it rents for its main office. It plans to do this through a loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development agency, which offers longer repayment options and lower interest rates for nonprofits and units of government.

“It’s very important to keep a stable identity,” said Joyce Fleck, Tri-Cap’s executive director. “Our clientele is very mobile, for lack of a better word, and we have to be stable for them to find us.”

Tri-Cap is a nonprofit community action agency serving Dubois, Pike and Warrick counties. It offers services and assistance in areas including housing, education and health to individuals and families, many of whom have a low income.

Fleck said that she has been interested in having Tri-Cap own its office since she officially became the executive director in 2011. She asked around at the state level, and someone let her know about the loans offered by USDA Rural Development.
“It just simply makes financial sense,” she said.

Tri-Cap receives government funding for most of its services, and Fleck said rent is the agency’s second-largest expense, behind salaries. If approved, a loan would allow Tri-Cap to make mortgage payments that would be much cheaper than the current rent, she said, declining to say how much the monthly rent is. The decrease in overhead would mean that more of Tri-Cap’s funding could be used for programs. It would also serve as a buffer against potential budget cuts.

The agency has worked out of four different Dubois County locations since it was created in 1966. It first operated in the basement of the county courthouse, then moved to 203 W. Sixth St., Jasper, according to Jane Chappell, former executive director of Tri-Cap. In the early 1970s, Chappell recalled, Tri-Cap moved to the former Ireland Elementary School — before moving back to the Sixth Street address in the early 1980s. It opened its doors at 607 Third Ave. at the beginning of 2002.

The current lease is set to expire at the end of 2016, and Fleck hopes to have the loan worked out long before then.

Michael Strahl is a community programs area specialist for USDA Rural Development, covering 11 counties in southwest Indiana including Dubois County. He is helping Fleck and Tri-Cap through the loan approval process. The Rural Development agency offers about 40 grant and loan programs, Strahl said. The one to which Tri-Cap is applying is intended specifically for community facilities in rural areas and towns with a population of up to 20,000.

Tri-Cap needs to submit an environmental report and preliminary architectural report on the cost of the project, Strahl said. Tri-Cap also must allow a feasibility study to be conducted independently, to determine if the agency can afford the loan. If these go smoothly and funding is available, then money will be obligated for Tri-Cap’s purchase, and the interest rate will be locked in. The program offers repayment plans as long as 40 years, at a current interest rate of 3.5 percent. That rate could change at the beginning of next year, Strahl said, but he added that any comparable rate still would be far lower than on a normal loan. Also, he said, most lenders would not be willing to offer repayment plans for more than 20 years.

Tri-Cap’s weatherization office operates out of a building three doors north, which Tri-Cap also rents. Ideally, if it is able to own the building where the main office is, Tri-Cap could move the weatherization office into the space nextdoor, but Fleck said that it is too early to think about those kinds of decisions. Regardless of what happens with Tri-Cap’s other building, Fleck stressed the importance of owning the main office’s location.

“Otherwise we would just be renting it forever,” she said. The community facilities loan is an ideal method of achieving that goal, she said, with its low interest rate and 40 years to repay it.

“We hope to be around for another 40 years,” she said.

Contact John Seasly at jseasly@dcherald.com.




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