Discussions on new parking structures and water conservation draw a big crowd
By David Josselyn
Parking Solutions Begat Debt Concerns
The Central City Council met for a work session, Tuesday, April 16th, to discuss proposals for two new parking structures, improvements to water lines and drainage on Spring Street, and ideas for water conservation this summer. The issues drew a crowd three rows deep of concerned citizens and business owners to listen in and contribute their ideas. City Director Alan Lanning opened the work session with a summary of the proposed Hillside parking structure, AGE parking structure, and water line and drainage improvements to Spring Street. The Hillside parking structure would take out much of the Sauer-McShane Mercantile Company building, but provide 250 additional parking spaces and include pedestrian bridges to the Century Casino, the Century parking garage, as well as the Spring, Main and Tebo properties. The portion of the Sauer-McShane building not torn down could be repurposed for a visitor’s center. The AGE parking lot, between Lawrence Street and Gregory Street and across from The Reserve Casino would provide an additional 150 parking spaces with access to the Century Casino garage and a pedestrian walkway giving access to Johnny Z’s. Spring Street water improvements would include looping the water lines, replacing utility poles, and improve curbs, sidewalks and drainage. The total cost of the three projects is estimated at $14 million which breaks down to about $35,000 per additional parking space. The estimates for the cost were compiled by the city’s own construction firm and not on actual construction bids, so the cost could be higher or lower than anticipated. City Manager Lanning supported the plan saying it would improve casino health and increase revenues, but also stated it should be a fifty-fifty split with the affected casinos for the cost. This would make the loan repayment about $650,000 annually which is the amount of city debt retiring in the fall of this year. Mayor Engels commented that the City will essentially be debt free after this fall. Lanning added that the proposed projects would benefit the city by accomplishing some much needed improvements. The city would get about $2.5 million in new water structure from this deal. Operations Director Kent Kisselman added that the city has already received a $20,000 grant to improve the water structure on Spring Street. Lanning added that the casinos would be charged a “parking impact” fee based on number of devices. The affected casinos are on board with the idea. The Operations Director added that the needed improvements would require the City to borrow money regardless of whether they make improvements or build new structures. Alderman Glo Gaines stated she was bothered by the bonds required to fund the project feeling that when taken to public meetings there might be some pushback. She believes the voting constituents would say we don’t need it. “If the city takes out bonds and the industry crashes, we’re stuck.” Alan Lanning said that in the reality of default of a bond, what could they take from the city? Alderman Gaines said that if the industry crashes and we default, that is not responsible behavior. She reiterated that she is not comfortable with the risk of the bonds. Mayor Engels said if we don’t move forward on some of this, he believes we have responsibility to the citizens to make these improvements which would still require bonding. “I believe that no matter what direction we move forward, we will bond debt,” stated the Mayor, “I think the risk is pretty small,” of the casino market crashing. Alderman Gaines came back saying “it’s much harder for our constituents, those who live here, who vote here, they are having some difficulty anyway with water issues and then we’re going to come to them and say we’re going to bond these things and it’s a risk. I feel they would much rather go into debt for a full-blown water system and not parking structures.” City Manager Lanning argued that we are spending money to make some money through devices and increased revenue.
At this point, comments were taken from the gathered audience. Barb Lissman asked “what is our risk, what if we build it and they don’t come?” Alan Lanning answered that payments would come from other sources of revenue if revenue does not result from the new structures.
A woman identifying herself as Betty queried, “If the city goes into debt like this, isn’t the city obligated to put it to the vote of the people?” Mayor Ron Engels replied that would not be the case. Betty continued, “I don’t think this is ethical” and “the community prides itself on being a historic district, and there are some historic issues.” She commented that walkways and bridges are not historic, and demolition of a building is not historic. Betty then went on to say “I’m in favor of using it (extra money freed up by payment of debt) for infrastructure. I’m hesitant to use it to benefit the casinos.” Alderman Glo Gaines addressed the city tax issue by saying that the extra revenue comes directly from the casino business rather than property taxes, so we’re already in a codependent relationship. “The only building affected by this is a hot button for all of us,” stated Gaines, “I would be one of the first ones out there crying over it if they take some of it away.” Mayor Engels then urged to move to the next agenda item since it was already 6:51pm. Alan Lanning recommended scheduling another discussion sooner, rather than later.
Water Conservation Coming
Operations Director Kent Kisselman briefed the council on the upcoming drought conditions and possible water restrictions. Utilities Systems Superintendent Shawn Griffith discussed conservation methods by the city. “We’ve used about 15% of water from Chase Gulch. We’re still down 8 feet on snow, so we’ll probably not have water going into Chase Gulch by the end of the summer,” stated Griffith. The City is using recycled water to wash the city vehicles. They have started a recycle program looping backwash water back into the treatment plant. Kent Kisselman suggested an idea that the city could invest in some water conservation kits that residents can check out to reduce water usage in their showerheads and faucets. He saw this done successfully in other municipalities. Citizen Barb Lissman suggested we start by knowing how much we’re using. Shawn Griffith informed her that the usage number is on your bill already. Alderman Gaines stated she is hoping to have a larger discussion about water rates at a future work session. She added that at least we can have gardens up here and not worry about them much. It sure beats watering only two days a week like Denver has already put into place.
The work session was adjourned at 7:05pm.