Citizen panel favors borrowing money for county projects

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By AJ Vicens

Jefferson County should borrow $60 million to $65 million for projects such as a $40 million jail expansion and a $6.5 million building to house the health department and the clerk and recorder.

At least that seems to be the dominant view among members of the Citizen Budget Review Panel. While the county’s construction and equipment needs over the next five years total more than $270 million, there isn’t anywhere near that much money to go around, and so the panel’s members are working to prioritize projects. The county, meanwhile, has provided a list of “essential” projects and needs with a $93 million price tag.

Some members of the panel want the county to use a portion of its $50 million in reserves and to borrow more than $60 million to fund the projects.

The funds would be borrowed using “certificates of participation,” a form of lease-purchase arrangement that, unlike a bond issue, would not require a vote of county residents.

Former Lakewood city councilman Ray Elliot, one of the more vocal group members, favors using the certificates of participation to get the projects under way.

“To wait until November to go to a vote of the people is too long,” Elliot said.

The panel has acknowledged that quick action is needed because interest rates are low and good deals are available on labor and materials. And, in the current economic climate, voters might not be amenable to the county issuing bonds.

“I could guarantee that (a ballot question) is not going to pass,” Elliot told the group. “But I think we’d be crazy not to move forward on the COPs. It is a concern that we go out and do this without the citizens having input.”

The COPs would be financed with $5 million of the $7 million the county had been paying as debt service on the Jefferson County Courts and Administration Building in Golden. The county paid off that debt in fall 2008.

Joe Dix, another panel member, suggested the county use the reserves it has to fund projects and not take on any additional debt.

Ultimately the county commissioners, who are conducting their own construction and equipment cost review, will make the decision on which projects to fund.

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.

A list of construction and equipment needs Jefferson County says are essential in the next several years:

• $41.2 million jail/community correction expansion

• $14.4 million for two buildings that would combine several county services into “one-stop shopping” centers

• $10 million for parking expansion at the Jefferson County Courts and Administration Building in Golden

• $9 million for new air-conditioning equipment at the Jefferson County Courts and Administration Building

• $3 million for courtroom expansion and remodeling

• $1.8 million to relocate the county’s data center and backup computer network

• $14 million for new voting equipment (depends on legislative requirements for voting machines)