Town Council discusses capital improvement projects, funds

Prior to slicing into the meat of its mid-month meeting — a portion appropriate for a nouvelle cuisine plate — the Pagosa Springs Town Council heard updates on two capital improvement projects, either under way or at denouement.

In an informational session, presented before the meeting was called to order, Parks Supervisor Jim Miller gave a rave review of the river restoration project. “It’s wildly exceeded my expectations,” he said, “I was not an ardent supporter of this at the beginning but I have drunk the Kool-aid in the midst of this project.”

A community-supported project by most measures, the first phase of the project was completed Saturday with a new whitewater feature installed adjacent to the Chamber of Commerce Visitor’s Center and a smaller feature installed slightly upstream from the past location of the erstwhile Davey’s Wave.

“Crews from the Pitcher family and Hart Construction (both who donated equipment and labor for the project) have been extraordinary, the volunteers working out there have been extraordinary,” said Town Manager David Mitchem.

“Everybody’s happy,” Miller continued, “Bill Whittington’s happy, residents are happy ... all the boaters who have used the new features say they’re far superior to the previous features.”

Miller also gave high marks to the fishing features installed at the 6th Street bend. “Riverbend (the engineering firm contracted for the project) did a wonderful job on those features ... the availability and access to the river is unbelievable.”

Just underway, the Town Park pedestrian bridge project started construction last Wednesday as crews began the process of installing abeyances that will ultimately secure the bridge to the banks of the river. According to Bob Hart, of Hart Construction (lead contractors on the project), abeyance work should be completed in time for an April 6 installation of the bridge, when a crane will lower the preconstructed bridge onto the abeyances.

Unlike 2008, when major capital improvement projects such as Lewis Street renovations and the Phase II build up of the town’s sports complex required attention, time and money from the town, the pedestrian bridge and river restoration appear to be the only priorities in the 2009 town budget. Although Riverbend Engineering has developed plans for a Phase II of the river restoration project that would incorporate whitewater structures in the portion of the river next to Town Park, that phase has not been included in the town’s 2009 budget. Should economic conditions improve and the town finds itself in a position to fund Phase II of the project, work would begin this winter.

Following the informational session’s focus on current capital improvement projects, council set about addressing how to spend money left over from the Lewis Street project. With $120,000 allocated as a budget line item for 2009 but paid for from the 2008 budget, council was confronted with the question of how best to spend that windfall.

“We have had a number of surprises, bills and obligations that were not budgeted for this past month,” said Mitchem, “We think we’ve crafted a solution that will allow us to not have to increase the 2009 budget. We’re asking for permission to use the $120,000 to close out some capital improvement projects.”

Specifically, Mitchem was looking to use some of the money to finish out improvements on Lewis Street (landscaping, gardening, benches and trash cans), pay bills from the 2008 Great West Avenue CMAQ (Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality) project and move to complete the Majestic Drive CMAQ project.

“I don’t see there’s a question,” said Mayor Ross Aragon, “We owe the money, we have to pay it.”

“Pay it,” said council member Darrel Cotton, “It sounds like free money, so …”

According to Mitchem, about $10,000 is needed to complete improvements on Lewis Street while the outstanding bill from the Great West Avenue CMAQ project amounted to about $25,000, leaving about $85,000 for 2009 capital improvements.

Council was uncertain, however, if the remainder of the windfall should be used for the Majestic Drive CMAQ project. “I’m not sure we’ll have the cash-flow for $200,000 (the estimated cost),” Mitchem said. “We should have $50,000 to $100,000 ... the reason we talk about it now is that CDOT (Colorado Department of Transportation) wants us to get started on it. If you give staff discretion to design a strategy for this project, we’ll come back to you with an option.

“A word of caution,” he continued, “We ought not to over leverage our capital improvement cash flow.”

Approving both the use of the $120,000 for closing out capital improvement projects and the development of a strategy for tackling another CMAQ project, council signaled Mitchem to move forward rather than remain mired in economic doldrums.

Council meets again April 7 at 5 p.m. in chambers at Town Hall. Council approved moving the April mid-month meeting out a week, from April 16 to April 23, giving itself more than nine days between meetings.

jim@pagosasun.com