County Council: Design funds approved

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By Marganne Glasser

County council passed a motion allocating $134,500 for design work on the new Municipal Building. The council also funded the Public Works Department at $21.1 million, the Fire Department at $23.1 million, the Police Department at $7.2 million and the Community Development Department at $9.9 for fiscal 2009. Council deferred a decision on the $21 million capital projects portion of the public works department until May 5.

Public Works Department Director Kyle Zimmerman told council the design funds would include building specs and floor plans, square footage and price tables, an assessment of parking needs by state codes, a construction timeline, and a project cost estimate.

Council Vice Chair Robert Gibson said this was far too much money for a stage I design.

Councilor Ken Milder said the county needed to allocate sufficient funds to get sufficient detail to make a sound decision.

“While we’re deliberating, the price goes up” said Councilor Jim West, participating by phone. “We need to keep the wheels moving.”

The motion passed 6-to-1, with Gibson opposed.

Public Works: The council recently reorganized the Public Works Department into Environmental Services (formerly Solid Waste) and Airport and Transit. Department managers Regina Wheeler and David Ploeger were on hand to answer council questions.

Ploeger explained that the $4 million cost to lengthen the runway included adding 450 feet to the end of the runway to come closer to the FAA-recommended 6,100-foot length, as well as a new asphalt layer for the entire runway. Ploeger said that the airport improvements are contingent on FAA funding. If the FAA participates, they will pay 95 percent of project costs. The state will pay 2.5 percent. The Gross Receipts Taxes the county will collect will exceed its 2.5 percent portion, so the  county will actually make money, explained Ploeger.

West asked if jet fuel would become available at the airport. Ploeger said the demand for it was being studied. He added that a holding tank is not sufficient; a fuel truck to deliver to the plane and a driver are also needed.

Council Chair Jim Hall noted that public perception of the airport budget was that a lot of money was being spent on a few constituents.

“All we have to do is point to the Cerro Grande Fire,” Zimmerman said, illustrating that people who don’t use the airport also benefit from it. He noted pest-control flights benefit the public as well.

County Chief Financial Officer Steven Lynne said the transit fund for fiscal 2009 is $2,848,975. He expects a federal Department of Transportation grant of $1.5 million. “The $1.4 million dollars that we spend for a $2.8 million project is a bargain,” he said.

Rides will continue to be free in the foreseeable future, Lynne said. Additional routes will be added during peak-use times, he added.

“We have not given up on the TA-3 route,” Zimmerman  said, even though it is not in the 2009 budget. He said contract negotiations with the lab are in process.

Zimmerman said bike racks for the buses are all ordered, and some are installed and in use. He said all busses have a camera and an impact triggers storage of video recorded in the previous 10 seconds for analysis.

Funding for the public works department, excluding the deferred capital projects, passed 6-to-0 with West absent for this and the remaining votes.

Fire: Councilor Fran Berting asked for clarification of the $11.5 million project budget for Fire Station 3. Lynne explained that $6 million came from the Cerro Grande Fire fund and $5.5 million from the self-sufficiency fund, with $2 million for fire facilities and $2.5 million for water production. The budget passed by a 6-to-0 vote.

Police: Police Chief Wayne Torpy told the council that the 2009 budget includes funding for a new narcotics officer and a management analyst for grant support.

Torpy said the police department had 180 drug investigations in the last two years.  “180 cases in two years tells me we’ve got to look harder,” he said.

“My wife teaches in the school system; we have a drug problem. It’s appropriate,” Hall said.

The police department budget passed  6-to-0.

Community Development: Lynne told the council the Community Development Department budget includes $65,000 for a housing rehabilitation loan program and $24,000 for efforts toward affordable housing. The budget passed by a 6-to-0 vote.

Council has a closed session meeting Wednesday at 6 p.m. The budget hearings reconvene at 7 p.m.