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County OKs next step on Riverton justice center -- with concerns

Dec 13, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

The Fremont County Commission has authorized the next phase of design for the Riverton justice center. Two on the county board wanted more information or a more definite plan before taking the next step, however.

At Tuesday's meeting, commission vice chairman Travis Becker suggested authorizing Reilly Johnson Architecture to begin work on construction documents so the design could be finished as soon as possible. He noted that other construction projects are planned for the county and said the cost of the justice center would rise if it went to bid after them.

Contractors use construction documents to build a facility. They include details such as the materials used for each portion, and companies would use the documents to develop a bid.

While Reilly Johnson composes the construction documents, the commissioners are to decide remaining details of the facility, Becker said in an interview, such as the type of windows and whether to use electronic or mechanical locks.

Two qualified 'no' votes

Commissioners Keja Whiteman and Stephanie Kessler voted against the motion but said they are not opposed to the project in general.

"I will work my butt off to support the legislation so we can get half of this through SLIB," Kessler said at the meeting.

"I don't think I have all the information yet," Whiteman said. "It's not that I'm opposed to the project, but I need more reassurance."

One unresolved factor is whether the county will receive a state grant to pay half of the $4.9 million price of the facility.

A drafted state bill would establish a program that could pay for 50 percent of the project, but it would have to pass the legislature after the body convenes in February. As drafted, the State Loan and Investment Board would also have to approve an application from Fremont County before the county received any funds.

Legislative outlook

In an interview, Becker was confident the legislation would pass, pointing to comments from local legislators at the commission's Dec. 10 meeting.

State Rep. Dave Miller, R-Riverton, and state Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, agreed the bill's passing was "a done deal."

Becker also said he was sure SLIB would approve Fremont County's request. The Wyoming Court Security Commission last year rated the Riverton justice center project as its first priority in the state, and that body will be involved in SLIB's decision again, Becker said.

Pay first

Kessler thought it was wiser to decide how to pay for the project before taking steps to build it, such as paying for design documents.

"We've seen a lot of options and alternatives for how we're going to fund a portion of this," she said at the meeting. "I'd feel more comfortable looking at one of those options and saying, 'We're going to commit to funding our $2.6 (million) this way,' before we continue down this road. I think the public needs to see we've addressed that and we've put out there what the plan is."

Becker had told the commission and a public meeting audience that the county could pay for half the project with a loan from its cash reserve, money it would repay at .5 to 2 percent interest a year for 10 years.

"There were a whole variety of options there, and it seems we need to know which one we're going to choose," Kessler responded.

Becker said the commission had not settled on a plan because some commissioners were "unwilling to commit."

The question of whether to use a self-loan or any other funding plan has never been put to a vote.

Commissioners did vote 3-1 on Dec. 3 to consider borrowing from the cash reserve. Commission chairman Doug Thompson, Becker and Kessler voting for and Whiteman voting against for the motion.

Kessler, in an interview, said the commission should settle other questions as well.

"What are we going to do if we don't get the matching funds from the state? What is the impact to our budget for the next 10 years? And how is that going to impact our decisions every year to cover that cost?" she said.

She was worried the county would get so far along toward building the justice center it would be committed regardless of whether it receives state funds.

"The bill may not be passed until sometime in March, then it's unclear what the bill will say in terms of the process in order to get funds, so maybe the actual review of projects will not come up until June," she said. "Does that mean we actually go out and bid in the spring before we actually know about the money from the SLIB process?"

Kessler said she was not sure why the commission had not discussed the questions she had.

"I actually did think we were going to at one point when this was brought up to be on the agenda two meetings ago," she said. "I thought we were going to have not only a presentation but a discussion and a vote, and I was surprised that we didn't."

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