Justice center could get $2.5 million loan by county to proceed

Dec 4, 2013 By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

Fremont County might pay for half the cost of a new Riverton justice center with a loan from its cash reserve.

The Fremont County Commission voted Tuesday to consider the idea.

The loan plan anticipates that a state program would cover the other half of the $4.8 million cost of the facility.

State Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, developed and the Joint Appropriations Committee approved a draft bill to appropriate $10 million for court security projects. If the Legislature approves the program, Fremont County could apply to the Sate Loan and Investment Board for funds but would have to provide a 50 percent match for any grant received.

"You're looking at a pretty good opportunity to get a $5 million facility for half off that will last 30, 40, 50 years," commissioner Travis Becker said, encouraging commissioners reluctant to dip into the cash reserve to consider the idea. "Those opportunities don't often present themselves."

He thought a loan ultimately would be between $2 million and $2.5 million. The county's cash reserve historically has been $7.5 million, so the proposed loan would bring that fund to $5 million and $5.5 million before building it back up.

Loan payback

If the county decided on a 10-year term for the loan and an interest rate between .5 percent and 2 percent, its annual payments for the loan would be $257,000 to $278,000, according to Becker's projections. He proposed making those payments from the general fund.

The exact amount of the loan would depend on how much it would cost to build the justice center, and what other sources could contribute to the county's match of the anticipated state grant.

Recent estimates from designers at Reilly Johnson Architecture projected the total cost to be $4.8 million, about $310,000 less than originally expected, Becker said.

Included in the estimate is a $625,000 contingency to cover unanticipated costs.

"If you didn't touch a dime of that contingency, the construction costs would be $4.2 million," Becker said.

Fremont County also has secured $144,000 through a countywide consensus SLIB grant for the justice center. That grant could be part of the county's 50 percent match for a court security fund grant, but the county would be responsible for the rest of match.

"The rest of the funding possibilities have been exhausted," Becker said in an interview. "There are no other funding programs available through the state for a facility of this nature."

Reserve worries

At the meeting, commissioner Stephanie Kessler was worried about dipping into the cash reserve.

"There is whatever that risk is of depleting that," she said.

Fremont County had dipped into its cash reserve before when revenues did not meet its expenditure, but the county always paid the reserve back the following year, Fremont County Clerk Julie Freese said.

Fremont County Treasurer Scott Harnsberger said that if the cash reserve were low an emergency arose, the county could delay a transportation project and use the road construction fund to cover the cost.

Kessler also was concerned about the affect of having to make loan payments from the general fund.

"I'm trying to evaluate what the impact will be for county services if we take this off the top every year," she said.

An annual obligation of $256,000 to $278,000 would be $200,000 less than what the commission is drawing from the general fund this year, Becker said. The county board appropriated more than $480,000 in the current year, $379,000 for the justice center design, $25,000 for storage containers to surround the current Riverton courthouse and $85,000 to cover attorney fees as part of a lawsuit.

3-1 vote

Becker then moved to approve the loan for "future consideration."

"We're saying, is this something we want to keep under consideration," commission chairman Doug Thompson said. "There's no project here that's authorized."

Becker, Kessler and Thompson voted to support the motion, and commissioner Keja Whiteman voted against it. Commissioner Larry Allen was not present due to the weather.

The vote marked a change for Kessler, who had voted against measures to move the justice center project forward since taking office in January.

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