County’s capital needs present challenges

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Person County should expect to see an excess of $16 million in capital project spending for the next fiscal year with some of the larger projects having to wait until the fall after the next fiscal year’s budget has been passed, according to County Manager Heidi York’s presentation at the Board of County Commissioners’ planning retreat last Monday.

York discussed the capital improvement project requests her office has received from the various departments.

The biggest requests came from the Economic Development Commission ($6.3 million), Piedmont Community College ($6 million), and county schools ($1.4 million).

According to York, the funds requested by the county schools would only fund regular maintenance needs and would not touch the larger deferred maintenance and safety needs that would have a price tag of around $35 million.

She said the bigger needs from the schools would likely be addressed once there is a more concrete plan in place for managing the county’s debt.

The EDC request includes a new shell building, York said, and could also include land acquisition, cleanup and construction funds.

Piedmont Community College’s request features a $5 million Advanced Technology Center among other routine campus maintenance, York said.

Under Information Technology requests, the county would extend fiber to the 911 and recycling centers at a cost of $65,000.

“I think this is significant because we’ve been talking about a partnership for our recycling center and that could help become an economic development recruitment opportunity to extend fiber out that way,” York said.

York said the Recreation, Arts and Parks Department submitted 10 projects for a total cost of $928,326, including lighting, ADA improvements and playground equipment at various locations.

Emergency Management submitted a $95,750 request to renovate the Emergency Operations Center and EMS facility.

“We have outgrown our space there,” York said. “We’ve had some struggles with sleeping quarters and the emergency operations room is too small for our needs.”

York said there is the possibility of moving the administration of EMS and emergency services into the old Home Health and Hospice space.

“It’s not a great use of that space, but it is sitting empty,” she explained. “You know that the rent on that space is $120,000, so finding a paying leaser would be ideal, but at this point we don’t have that. So, I am thinking about other ways that we might use that space for departments that are outgrowing their current space.”

The county also has $279,127 in general service requests that includes roofing and window upgrades to various county properties, including maintenance of the Old Helena School gymnasium roof.

The county will also address the second half of the salary compression study which looked at the problem of new employees being brought in at a the same salary level as tenured employees. The second phase will include all of the human services and general government employees at a cost of $238,000.

York also said that the county EMS salaries will need to be adjusted to be competitive with similarly-sized counties. The county would need to find $67,497 to fund the salary raise in the current fiscal year. York said the issue would be brought up at a future board meeting.

“Until we are able to compete for talent and keep our talent here, this is going to continue to be an issue,” she said. “It’s not just Person County. We’re seeing this across the U.S.”

York said there was a request for eight full-time positions, including Environmental Health, PATS, inspections, jail, GIS and DSS. Including the new Fire Marshal position would push the total cost of new full-time positions to about $500,000.

“I think our takeaway has been that we have some huge capital needs,” York said. “We’re trying to get us in a good place to be able to support those, but we may not see expenditures on those huge capital needs in your fiscal 21 budget.”

York said there would be a better idea on the future of the county’s capital projects once the debt service model is complete in the fall.

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