Summit County initiates $20M bond process
For years, Summit County has weighed what to do with the land it owns and plans to acquire as the need for more and different facilities has increased across multiple county departments.
But building comes at a cost, and on Wednesday, the Summit County Council voted unanimously to start the process to issue up to $20 million in debt to pursue facilities projects that officials said, in some cases, are overdue.
That could come with about $5 million in interest over the 20-year life of the bonds, Summit County Finance Director Matt Leavitt indicated.
“There’s been a number of projects that just keep coming up, year after year,” Councilor Kim Carson said, adding that the most urgent needs are in the Public Works Department and the Summit County Sheriff’s Office.
“These buildings, there are things that have been put off,” Carson said. “People have been doing a good job of dealing with what they have, but it gets to a point where there gets to be potentially safety concerns, depending on what you’re looking at.”
Summit County Sheriff’s Lt. Andrew Wright said his department outgrew the space at the Summit County Justice Center years ago.
“We have actually taken closet space and turned it into office space, taken down some nonstructural walls that divided some office space to put in some cubicles, some very small cubicles, to try to keep our investigators together, our patrol sergeants together,” Wright said.
He added that the department has purchased several storage sheds it uses to store records outside behind the Justice Center and that the Sheriff’s Office has paid to rent private storage units for decades.
“We literally have offices and have modified spaces that were once used for evidence storage, literally janitorial supply storage, that are now office spaces. And our evidence storage has also been another concern over the years,” he said. “ … There’s absolutely no way we could do an office-wide meeting or training in our building. We actually have to do it in several different time slots or days. It’s been a challenge.”
Carson said one of the urgent needs at the Public Works Department is to build structures to cover equipment and road-maintenance material like salt, which Carson said has environmental impacts.
Carson was a part of a council subcommittee charged with reviewing the county’s debt and determining whether to issue bonds.
A county-issued timeline shows a public hearing would be scheduled in mid-January to discuss issuing bonds, and the funds could be delivered in late February.
It is unclear whether the council will vote again to issue the debt, but Carson said the council would have the ability to stop the issuance following the public hearing.
Carson said the county is contemplating issuing between $16 million and $18 million in debt, and she said it is likely the actual amount of interest paid would be less than the $5 million estimate. She said issuing bonds now would take advantage of historically low interest rates.
“It’s a good use of taxpayer dollars. I think we get more bang for our buck,” she said.
The county pursued an alternative path to pay for the Kamas Services Building, Carson said, dipping into fund balances to pay for the project as it was built.
But cost overruns hit the county’s savings harder than was anticipated, Carson said, and borrowing for projects shifts some of the cost burden onto future residents who will benefit from the increased governmental services the buildings will facilitate.
The sales tax revenue bonds are a financial mechanism that essentially borrows against future sales tax revenue. Leavitt has indicated that low interest rates have incentivized borrowing money now.
The county is also planning to issue bonds for about $4 million in future recreation, arts and parks tax revenues. Those funds would pay for recreation capital projects like parks.
The resolution did not offer details about what the funds would be used for beyond funding “various public works and infrastructure projects” and paying off debt.
Councilors did not discuss the bond measure in detail before approving it Wednesday. County Manager Tom Fisher has indicated bond funds would enable future building and land-use planning projects that have been discussed for areas including the Gillmor property near Home Depot.
That property is at the center of a lawsuit filed by a local developer associated with the Hideout annexation that claims the county suppressed development elsewhere to stymie competition for a mixed-use project it is pursuing. County officials deny those charges.
Leavitt said the county has issued similar debt in the past, and is paying off a previous round of bonds this year, enabling this move. The county bonded for nearly $10 million in 2017 and plans to pay off that debt in 2029, he added.
Leavitt indicated a 2017 facilities master plan would likely guide future spending.
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