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County delays talk about capital projects

John Colson
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

The Garfield County commissioners this week opted not to follow their staff’s recommendations about how to handle as much as $80 million in big-ticket capital improvements projects over the coming five years or so.

Instead, the commissioners will come up with their own ideas about how the county should approach the matter.

The Board of County Commissioners and its staff have been wrestling with how to budget for some major expenses in the coming years. In general, the county expects property tax revenues to drop off severely next year, and to stay relatively low for an undetermined length of time due to the ongoing national recession.



Last month, county manager Ed Green and finance director Lisa Dawson presented a set of documents to the commissioners laying out which projects are tentatively scheduled for which of the next five years.

The matter was to be discussed at a special meeting on March 31, but it was put off until this month.



The documents also contained staff recommendations that some projects be undertaken – or, in the case of a number of 2010 projects, completed – while others could be delayed.

At the regular commissioners meeting on April 12, at least one board member was reluctant to try to set fiscal goals in any concrete way, as indicated by the list of projects.

“The five-year plan has always been discussed as a wish list,” said Commissioner Tresi Houpt.

And, she continued, while fiscal planning is a critical job for local governments, any such list needs “constant and careful re-evaluation [because] the economy is still in flux.”

In particular, she noted that tax-related questions on the state ballot, if passed, could drastically cut revenues flowing to the state and local governments.

“All local governments could be closing doors,” she said somberly.

Three proposals, out of a total of 98 proposed ballot questions, would strictly limit the abilities of local and state governments to tax, borrow and spend.

Houpt pointed out that a number of the items on the “capital projects” list are “still an ongoing discussion” concerning funding and feasibility.

Among them, she said, are a proposed new county office building or justice center in Glenwood Springs; a new South Bridge to carry motorists out of Glenwood Springs toward Carbondale; a new landfill cell in Rifle that could handle “pit liners” used in the gas drilling industry; a possible mass-transit district in the west end of the county; and a parking structure in downtown Glenwood Springs.

Green responded that, for the list of 2010 projects, many have been funded and some have been begun.

As for the rest of the list, he said, “This exercise really relates to a long-term analysis of our capital budgets” and how spending would affect the county’s financial reserves.

Still reluctant to accept the list as an unchangeable look at the future, Houpt remarked, “I don’t think this needs to be approved in the manner that it’s been proposed.”

Appearing somewhat annoyed, Commissioner John Martin suggested the members of the board each come up with his or her own list of priorities for future capital projects.

He said the discussion can be resumed in the future, and that perhaps the scope could be limited to project lists for 2010 and 2011 only, at least to start with.

jcolson@postindependent.com


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