The Pima County Board of Supervisors will buy a 21,000-square-foot warehouse at 1680 E. Benson Highway for roughly $1.5 million.

But questions about whether the county actually needs to purchase the former south-side produce warehouse in the first place prompted County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry to recommend selling some prime real estate downtown to cover the cost, rather than taking the money from elsewhere in the budget.

The Board of Supervisors decided on Tuesday to back a plan to sell an office building at 97 E. Congress Street to the highest bidder. Getting rid of the building is part of a complex shuffle of departments designed to consolidate the amount of office and warehouse space either leased or owned outright by the county. The downtown property is estimated to be worth at least $3 million, according to the latest valuation from the County Assessor's Office.

The warehouse, near Pima County Sheriff's Department headquarters, will be used to store supplies the county maintains in case of a natural disaster or terrorist attack. It will also be used by the Health Department to store inoculations and vaccines.

Republican Supervisor Ally Miller argued two weeks ago that the county did not need to buy a warehouse, saying a recent tour of the new Pima Emergency Communications and Operations Center at East 22nd Street and South Jones Avenue demonstrated the county had "thousands" of square feet not being used at the state-of-the-art facility.

By postponing the vote for two weeks, Huckelberry found room inside the new communications facility to accommodate 28 staffers in the Information Technology Department currently working on the fifth floor of the County Administration Building. The mostly empty fifth floor will eventually house the county's Flood Control Department, the only agency using the 44,000-square-foot office building on Congress.

Even without the sale of the county-owned facility downtown, the purchase of the former produce warehouse on Benson Highway will be cost-effective within a decade, Huckelberry said.

The county already spends roughly $150,000 a year leasing two smaller storage facilities, county records show.

The board voted 4-1 in favor of buying the warehouse, with only Miller dissenting.

Miller said she was concerned about the price paid for the warehouse and one assessment of the property suggesting the county is paying too much.

Contact reporter Joe Ferguson at or 573-4346.