Commissioners consider five year capital improvement plan

Detention center still tops the list of priorities

The Gunnison Board of County Commissioners liked what they saw in the latest capital improvement plan (CIP), presented by assistant finance director Ben Cowan at a regular meeting on Tuesday, July 21. But they didn’t see much change from the plan they saw last year.



The 95-page CIP provides a glance at the county’s unbudgeted capital improvement needs over the next five years and gets annual updates to reflect changing needs. However, the needs don’t always change.
Cowan says a capital need is something that will cost more than $10,000 and has a usable life of more than five years. Of the 27 priorities on the county’s list, 15 were held over from last year.
That’s a change from a year ago, when the CIP was under tighter review and all but four of the top 15 projects or purchases on the list were new; the remainder had been removed from the list either because they had been completed or because they were no longer priorities.
Still topping the list, as it did last year, is a new detention center for the county to be built between 2011 and 2013.
According to the project request form, the justification for the new detention facility says, “After many years of feasibility studies, the latest being completed in 1993, the current facility was found to be deficient in several areas.” Some of the areas listed are ventilation, fire safety and size, all of which legally have to meet American Correctional Association standards.
It was included in the CIP after voters rejected two ballot initiatives that would have raised the $8.74 million needed for the jail through taxes.
The CIP now calls for $1.3 million to be spent on the construction of a detention center in 2011, $3.7 million in 2012 and another $3.73 million in 2013. The plan for the project is an increase in spending and an advance in the timetable from the one presented to the commissioners last year.
A new, nearly $6.2 million public works facility is number two on the list, to be under construction next year. The justification included in the plan says the current facility causes problems by not providing adequate separation between the administrative side of the building and shops where trucks and equipment are stored and repaired.
The public works facility moved from being classified as necessary to urgent because so much money was spent on overtime or downtime for employees fixing leaks and shoveling roofs or not being able to work because of deficiencies in the facility.
Snow removal and road maintenance equipment is also on the list as things that need to be purchased by the public works department over the next three years.
Projects or department needs included in the plan are prioritized based on the number of citizens affected by a project, if a project has been subjected to public scrutiny and whether or not it has been proposed to the commissioners multiple times.
Things required by government standards or law, like the detention center and the public works facility, have an amplified priority and also move to the top of the list quickly.
“One way that we’re keeping track of these projects is that if a department head submits a project that is statutorily required, they have to supply us with the statute,” Cowan says.
Another hold-over from last year’s CIP is a $633,000 sheriff’s sub-station in Mt. Crested Butte to provide needed office space to officers covering the expanding north end of the Gunnison Valley, according to the plans.
Other capital improvement priorities identified in this plan include buildings and paving for the airport (the $30 million terminal that was included in last year’s plan has been dropped), as well as a fire truck for the airport, which is funded separately from other county operations.  
Still others include information technology for several departments and an elevator for the current detention center.
In at least one case, however, the CIP stayed the same when it was scheduled to change. The county had planned to reconstruct the Slate River Bridge on Highway 135 near the Crested Butte cemetery this year, but the project was delayed and has been identified in the latest draft of the plan as a priority for the 2010-2011 construction seasons.
Last year, the commissioners and county staff saw the new list of priorities in the CIP as an indication that things were moving along as planned and the process was working. Now that many of the priorities have been on the list for two years, feelings about what that means have changed.
Commissioner Jim Starr says, “I think it is an indicator that a lot of our top projects are high expense items. The detention center, for example—we’ve been saving up now for four years and we’ll need to save up for a couple of more years before we find out if we have enough to finance the rest of it. The process is working, just in a different way.”

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