UPDATE 10/15/2023: $38.8 Million Justice Building Public Hearing
Updated: Oct 15
UPDATE 10/15/2023 2:25 pm: A lot of people think I am against the expansion of the Justice Center. Not true. The County very much needs it.
When I first became commissioner, I was given a tour of the old courthouse. I was shocked to see how staff were packed so tightly that they were practically stacked on top of each other. Judges were sharing offices. And one person, in particular, had his workspace in a hallway with a curtain providing some privacy. We definitely needed more space.
That's why I voted for a $35 million building...not a $38.8 million building.
The March 16, 2023 meeting, titled Current Project Cost Estimate, presented a building project cost of $35,273,649. It was also noted that there was some "padding" for unexpected expenses and inflation, but that was the exact number presented. No decision was made that day.
The following week, during the March 21, 2023 Status Update meeting, the commissioners were discussing allocating fund balance (similar to County savings) toward the cost of the building project. The key statement that I relied upon in order to vote "yes" on this project was from Commissioner Duncan when she said:
"If we pick 2.5 months [operating reserves] you can add $4.6 million to $11 million. Essentially $15 million and if you do $6 million for the building and $6 million for jail pods you still have some stuff left over."
What this statement meant was that we could allocate money for a three month emergency reserve savings, or we can take the $4.6 million for the building project and keep our emergency savings to cover operations (in case the County stops receiving revenue for any number of reasons) at 2.5 months. If we assign the $4.6 million and add it to the already existing $11 million in savings, the County would have a total of about $15 million available for both the Justice Center expansion ($6 million) and jail pods project ($6 million) with extra money left over for future capital projects or unexpected expenses. This was the key statement that gave me comfort we would be able to afford both projects.
Here's the video of our discussion:
What I didn't know at the time was there was an additional $3.5 million of additional soft-cost expenses on top of that $35 million estimate. What's most troubling is that the previous board was made aware of this additional expense during the February 18, 2022 meeting.
If you go back to that meeting, you will see a very specific estimate of $18,498,554 for construction and an additional $3.5 million for indirect construction and soft costs (including furniture) that totaled $22,022,269.69.
Here's the queued video of the previous Board being shown all of the (wrong) initial numbers:
Fast forward to August 1, 2022 (a mere six months later) and the construction company stated that there was no way the County was getting a building for $22 million. The number would be "north" of $30 million for sure.
How Come the Previous Board Didn't Grill the People Behind the Original Estimate?
If somebody was off by over $11.5 million on an $18.5 million construction estimate in just six months, you could bet dollars to doughnuts I'd grill those people vigorously. They would have a tough time explaining to me why they should even be allowed to build a doll house, much less a commercial building.
Yet, these same construction experts (the ones who couldn't give an accurate estimate) are still involved in this project. It wasn't until the last week of September did I finally see just how much this entire project was going to cost.
My frustration with this process is because I've been given bad information about the total cost of this project from the beginning. It wasn't until earlier this month did I discover just how broken and poorly managed this process has been...and exactly what the TOTAL COST is estimated to be. That's why I'm demanding TRANSPARENCY.
You, the taxpayers, need to know exactly what is happening with your tax dollars. You need to know that we are about to draw down our savings to the point that any cushion, or margin, is about to be reduced to almost nothing. PLUS, we have planned capital projects in the coming years that will require us to aggressively save for them.
If just one thing goes wrong with our revenues declining, or our expenses rising too much in future years, you -- the taxpayer -- will be on the hook for making up the difference. This is a conversation we should've had before breaking ground with this project.
UPDATE 10/11/23 5:51 pm: Since that first meeting, there have been two more meetings where I discuss the Justice Center. The good news is that two of the three items on my list have been fulfilled: The County's Finance Director is now being included in the building project meetings, and (second) we have allocated funding for the completion of the jail and Sheriff's Office expansion.
The third item, a public hearing, will occur this coming Monday evening, 6pm October 16, 2023, at the County Building. Below are the two subsequent meetings queued where this subject is discussed.
This Business Meeting was a couple hours after the initial Oct 3 Status Update meeting that is at the bottom of this page where the BOCC is expected to approve an additional expenditure for the Justice Center building.
The following meeting is our status update meeting where we discuss allocating $9 million to completing the Jail and $950k for the Sheriff's Office expansion.
ORIGINAL BLOG: I'm afraid it might be.
The Justice Center expansion project was started by the previous Board. Since my start last January, I've had a difficult time wrapping my arms around the cost of this project. Below is my commentary on it and what it will take for me to support it moving forward.
Your feedback on this subject is greatly appreciated.
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