by Patrick Bilow

Herald Reporter

With the year’s end approaching, the Board of County Commissioners is developing next year’s budget, which includes funds for the Lake County Justice Center, a new county position and collaborative efforts with the City of Leadville on affordable housing.

Since introducing the preliminary budget in mid-October, the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) has met with county departments to finalize budgetary needs. The board met with the Lake County Sheriff’s Office to discuss their budget on Thursday. So far, BOCC is estimating a $8,621,089 general fund balance for 2022.

According to Commissioner Kayla Marcella, construction of the Lake County Justice Center reflects a significant portion of BOCC’s budget for next year. Although BOCC is anticipating some federal funding for the project, the organization is reserving $4 million for project management hires and environmental and geotechnical testing on the proposed site for the justice center at Harrison Avenue and Monroe Street.

Marcella said the $4 million is a conservative estimate for project spending in 2022, and that a portion of the funds may roll over into 2023. BOCC is also awaiting Congressional approval of $3,575,000 in federal funding for the project. According to Marcella, the funds, which would cover roughly 15 percent of the justice center’s construction, are advancing in this year’s federal budget cycle. Congressional approval will not likely arrive until the spring.

BOCC is also budgeting the county manager’s salary for 2022. Tim Bergman, who began as county manager in November, is serving Lake County in an administrative role, overseeing county departments and reporting to BOCC. Bergman’s salary is partially covered through a Colorado Department of Local Affairs grant, which covers 75 percent of the salary in 2022, 50 percent in 2023 and 25 percent in 2024.

Since the passage of ballot measure 2A earlier this month, which created a funding mechanism for affordable housing within city limits, BOCC and the City of Leadville are partnering to hire a housing director. Marcella said BOCC is budgeting $80,000 in 2022 for the position’s salary, which the city and county will share. BOCC, who will claim the director as a county employee, will start advertising for the position in January.

BOCC has committed to partially funding another position with the Central Colorado Conservancy. The hiree for the position — for which the county is budgeting around $30,000 for, according to Marcella — will work with Lake County on conservation efforts and development of land management plans.

After several building delays related to the COVID-19 pandemic last year, BOCC is hoping to complete fire station two next year. The county set aside $200,000 for the project in 2022, in addition to funds that carried over from 2021. Marcella said fire station two, which will serve southern Lake County, is slated for completion around late spring or early summer

BOCC is also requesting to renegotiate cost sharing for the station with the City of Leadville. Overall, Marcella said the project has become more expensive since construction began, with material prices increasing substantially. For instance, Marcella said the bay doors, which were ordered in July but have not yet arrived, increased in cost by about 40 percent before they were purchased.

As the threat of wildfire in Lake County intensifies with each fire season, Marcella said BOCC is discussing how the Lake County Landfill and Recycling Center can contribute to fuels mitigation and slash disposal efforts. Originally, BOCC budgeted around $165,000 for an air burner at the landfill and recycling center. After conversations with the Cloud City Conservation Center (C4) on how the group can best use slash management waste, C4 recommended a chipper or similar machine instead. BOCC is now considering alternatives to an air burner, Marcella said.

Lake County Public Works has also finalized requests for various equipment upgrades and paving projects, reducing the department’s projected fund balance to $200,000 for the start of 2022. Marcella said Lake County Public Works’ budget is preliminary at this point, and that BOCC is sifting through the department’s budgetary proposals.

Marcella added that BOCC will host a public hearing on Dec. 14 for Lake County citizens to comment on next year’s budget.

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