GarCo trims capital projects because of natural gas slowdown
Following word last week that WPX Energy is halting new natural gas well completions in Garfield County this year, county commissioners on Friday decided to trim about $6.5 million from the county’s capital projects budget for the year.
As the industry reacts to the downward trend in natural gas prices, “I think we maybe need to look at the crystal ball and what that will mean for property taxes,” County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said.
“We may go two or three years with these prices, and if that’s the case we need to be more conservative about our approach to capital (spending),” Jankovsky said.
Further, “we need to be realistic about what we can get done this year,” he said in reference to a long list of capital projects totaling more than $27 million, from road and bridge projects to county government building and facility upgrades.
Commissioner Mike Samson agreed.
“We are fortunate that we have had the wherewithal and the foresight to have the reserves that we do have,” Samson said of a projected 2015 year-end fund balance of more than $105 million.
“But I am very concerned about what’s going to happen in 2016 and ’17, and we need to gear up for that,” he said.
With that, commissioners proceeded to cut several items from the 2015 capital budget, ranging from postponing bridge reconstruction to holding off on new compressed natural gas vehicle purchases and a few fairgrounds upgrades.
One decision that could have more permanent implications was to forego some $800,000 in federal, state and city of Glenwood Springs funding and eliminating about $100,000 in county dollars to complete another small section of the South Canyon trail.
Commission Chairman John Martin, while still supportive of eventually finding a way to complete the paved foot and bike trail from West Glenwood to the South Canyon bridge, said it comes down to “necessities versus an amenity” in comparison to other projects.
“We need to concentrate on the necessities,” he said.
The county will also wait yet another year to build the estimated $5 million new Una bridge on County Road 300 west of Parachute.
That will mean giving back a $300,000 state Energy Impact grant that had been awarded for construction of the new bridge due to its heavy use by the oil and gas industry.
But with the industry slow down, the county can buy some time before fixing what has been a safety issue for larger industry trucks trying to make the tight corner onto the bridge, commissioners agreed.
The county will keep $400,000 in the budget to continue with property acquisition and engineering for the project. That could help earn even more state dollars for the actual construction, County Manager Andrew Gorgey said.
Commissioners did agree to proceed with plans to build a new administration building in Rifle to replace some of the offices that are now housed in the century-old Henry building downtown.
However, the budget for that project will be trimmed from around $5.4 million to $4.5 million.
“I know we are committed to a new building in Rifle, but my concern is the size,” Jankovsky said of the proposed 20,000-square-foot facility to be built behind the existing county Health and Human Services building at 14th Street and Railroad Avenue.
“I just think we’re building much bigger than we really need for the next decade,” he said, suggesting the building be planned for around 15,000 square feet instead. “I don’t think it’s prudent.”
Commissioner Samson disagreed on that point.
“I think we need to build for the future, and I believe we will use it,” he said.
The new Rifle facility is still in the design process and has not been put out to bid, but commissioners have said they would like to see the project completed by next year.
Another project that the commissioners did not want to compromise relates to safety upgrades at the Cattle Creek Road intersection on Highway 82. In fact, the budget for the intersection improvements was increased from $1.6 million to $3 million.
Commissioners also agreed to maintain about $3 million in planned improvements at the Rifle-Garfield County Airport, including relocation of the fuel farm and a plane de-icing pad.
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The Glenwood Springs City Council will begin piecing together the vision for South Canyon during Thursday night’s city council meeting.