County cuts from detention center, still over budget


ALAMOSA — Alamosa County was more than $4.5 million over budget to build the new courthouse and expand the detention center, so almost $300,000 was cut from the jail. The commissioners approved the cut and allowed Van Iwaarden Builders Inc. to proceed with the project after a work session during Wednesday's meeting.

"That'll make a lot of people smile," said owner Bob Van Iwaarden of the project's progression, "including me."

Van Iwaarden Builders Inc.'s base bid for the jail expansion and remodel was $9,531,570 earlier in the month but it is now $9,246,938. The savings come from value engineering measures such as changing window manufacturers, swapping tile in the kitchen and having the county install traffic signs themselves.

However, that still leaves the county $4,484,614 over budget. If they cut alternate options, such as interior holding cells, they could save $1,177,555. Yet they're hesitant to do that because only the most vital additions are being considered.

"They're critical to really have a functioning jail," said Robert Brashers of Reilly Johnson Architecture. "It's hard to see it without those alternates. There's not a lot of fluff in it. There's not a lot of finishes we can dial back on or architectural features we can take off."

Since only the jail portion has gone out to bid, part of the total $30,610,291 cost comes from the estimated cost of the new courthouse. Officials hope that the courthouse's bid will not be drastically different.

"I don't know if it's going to be that ugly,"Brashers said, "but we're anticipating that it's going to be ugly. It's a simpler building. It's bigger and more expensive, but it's not an addition and nothing has to stay operational as it's being constructed."

This is the second belt-tightening measure the county took and it most likely won't be the last. In November the county saved $45,000 by eliminating a lightning protection system and cut $420,000 in landscaping costs.

Though fewer inmates will be housed out at other facilities, the additional 64 beds will put a strain on the county's budget in the coming years. Alamosa County Chief Financial Officer Brittney DeHerrera estimates that it will cost $1,706,020 to operate both the jail and courthouse due to increases in staff, food, and other supplies.

If the sales tax collection averages $2.5 million annually, the county's annual operating balance is only $887,855 after paying off debt.

"Either way there's a cost," DeHerrera said. "We've never really been able to build in the past because we didn't have the money to operate the addition. At some point this has to give. But even if you cut it in half, we're still over extended in our annual operating costs."

The sheriff's department makes up 89.9 percent of Alamosa County's public safety adopted 2017 budget, which in turn makes up 50.5 percent of the general fund. Over the past eight years the budget for the department has increased by $1,274,065, which is roughly 50 percent.

"By no means has our general fund revenues or property taxes seen the same kind of increase," said DeHerrera. "It's really putting a toll on our general fund, which is why we have a portion of the sales tax from the justice fund trying to help. But it's still just pushing the seams. We only have so much money."

"I keep saying just tell me which artery to cut," responded Sheriff Robert Jackson.

Expenses are also much higher than revenue for the sheriff's department. Commissioner Helen Sigmond asked about billing the inmates but Jackson said that isn't possible.

"The judges waive cost of care in 95 percent of their inmates because they say they're indigent," Jackson said. "I legally cannot bill them."

The commissioners expressed regret in not issuing more certificates of participating last year. In September Alamosa County Commissioners Michael Yohn and Darius Allen voted to borrow $24 million. Sigmond didn't vote and wished to borrow $25 million instead.

"Hindsight is 20/20," Allen said. "But we wouldn't have the money to service the debt anyhow."

To save more money the county is considering lowering the contingency plan from 15 percent to 5 percent. DeHerrera estimates that the $3.1 million plan would shrink to about $1.17 million without the additions. They are also looking into not hiring a commissioning agent and checking the possibility of receiving energy efficiency rebates.

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