- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—Pueblo County will spend $700,000 to purchase an empty garage on the 700 block of West Fourth Street, hoping to use excess bond proceeds from the new judicial building to pay for it.

The commissioners voted 3-0 Monday to approve the purchase of the former location of Larsen’s Automotive Center, which will become the new home of the county’s fleet offices and maintenance shop.

Now, the fleet department works out of a two-bay garage behind the Pueblo County Courthouse that used to serve as a tire shop three decades ago. Larsen’s is currently located in the Midtown Shopping Center.

Monday, Fleet Director Carl Chavez and Facilities Director Sean Tapia said the opportunity to purchase the new garage is a good one and that it could provide much more usable space for fleet mechanics to work more efficiently.

Chavez said his crews

now must “juggle” vehicles to get them in and out of the garages. With more bays and space to store parts, Chavez estimated that crews could shave at least an hour off the time it takes to do each job.

The department works on more than 500 vehicles “from push mowers to bulldozers,” Chavez said.

The new facility also will provide two large bays for heavier equipment that the current garage is unable to handle.

“I’m probably more excited than anybody due to the fact that we have two mechanic bays and we’re increasing the work area by seven bays that allows for larger trucks and vehicles,” Chavez said.

Chavez also said the new facility would be useful because of its proximity to the new compressed natural gas station across the street.

The county has committed to adding more CNG vehicles to its fleet.

Tapia said the move has been in the works for several years, even before he was hired by the county. He told commissioners that initial estimates for the county to build a new facility ran into the $3 million range.

Spending $700,000 for a turnkey garage was a much better deal, he said. But paying for it in an era of deficit spending is a challenge.

The garage comes with an additional 26 parking spaces and its location near the new Dennis Maes Pueblo Judicial Building may allow for some relief to the frequent crunch on parking spaces there.

The judicial building finished its construction about $1.6 million under budget. Interim County Finance Director Aimee Tihonovich said the county has committed to using about $300,000 of that money this year to pay down the principle cost of the building, leaving the interest payment to the general fund.

The county also has discussed spending $50,000 from the unused proceeds to purchase equipment for the holding cells in the building’s basement.

The hope is that by associating parking relief with the judicial building, the bond holders will OK using the unspent funds to purchase the new garage.

If not, the county will borrow deeper into its general fund reserves to make the purchase, Tihonovich said.

She told commissioners she didn’t believe doing so would provide cash flow problems for the county.

The county’s 2015 budget already contemplates borrowing $2.6 million from its general fund reserve to balance the $129 million ledger. Adding a $700,000 property purchase would push that to $3.3 million.

Commissioner Terry Hart noted that the county remains in difficult financial circumstances, but also argued that the board’s responsibility is to move forward on some items as well.

“Sometimes an opportunity comes by that you just can’t ignore,” he said, adding that the county took over the current garage with the idea that the move would be temporary and the building would be torn down to add parking in the neighborhood.

“They’ve been in there now for three decades or longer,” Hart said.

Commission Chairwoman Liane “Buffie” McFadyen noted that the move also would provide opportunity for the Career Building Academy to expand its curriculum.

The charter school is operating in the former probation offices nearby at a lease with the county of $1 a month.

County Attorney Greg Styduhar said staff is still working on how to incorporate the cost of the purchase into the excess bond proceeds. Tihonovich said she’s hopeful the county will get an answer within the next few days.

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(c)2015 The Pueblo Chieftain (Pueblo, Colo.)

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