County Outlines $44 Million Capital Improvement Plan

By Beacon Staff

Flathead County recently laid out the major capital improvement projects it has planned for the next five years, with new library buildings accounting for a bulk of the planned $44 million in expenditures.

The Flathead County Commission unanimously approved the county’s capital improvement plan last week; the document lays out the proposed projects for fiscal years 2014 through 2018.

While the July 1 vote didn’t automatically approve funding for the projects, it does give the county a roadmap for major improvements in its infrastructure and equipment.

Most county departments are scheduled for upgrades, according to the plan, but the Flathead County Library System looks to receive $17 million of the expected $44 million, or about 39 percent.

The money would pay for two new libraries in fiscal year 2017: one in Bigfork, and a new main library in Kalispell. According to Flathead County Administrator Mike Pence, many of the projects outlined in the capital improvement plan do not have specifics just yet, including the libraries.

“For one thing it’s further down the road, and it’s subject to a successful bond issue being passed,” Pence said.

The new 4,000-square-foot Bigfork library would cost an estimated $1 million, and would include a community meeting room, a children’s area, plenty of computers and wireless access, and an outdoor area for summer programs, according to the plan.

Furniture, shelving and new book and video materials are not included in the construction costs.

A new main library building in Kalispell would cost about $16 million. The idea for a new main library has been floating around for a while, Pence noted, and began to take shape in 2009 when several architectural companies laid out concept designs for the new 52,000-square-foot building that was to be “the living room of the community.”

With library use and checkouts increased by 62 percent in the last five years, the library Board of Trustees said a new building would better serve the community and alleviate spacing concerns.

Pence noted that the plans for both libraries are contingent on Flathead County voters approving bond levies to pay for the construction, unlike many of the projects outlined in the capital improvement plan.

“Funding isn’t available; (the commission) didn’t set aside funding for the library,” Pence said. “They just allowed it to be in the plan.”

The commission also approved the plan to pay $2 million in fiscal year 2015 for a new Agency on Aging building, which has been a high-profile subject for the commission in the past year.

In April, the commission voted to stop pursuing a federal grant that would have helped pay for a new AOA building, much to the chagrin of those in support of the project. At the time, Commissioner Pam Holmquist said AOA does need a new building, but it wasn’t the right time.

The capital improvement plan proposes the project for fiscal year 2015, and the $2 million would come from federal Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) money and existing money available to the county.

PILT would also pay for the old jail building’s renovation, Pence said, scheduled to take place in fiscal year 2015.

The county Solid Waste Department also expects considerable expenditures, totaling over $9 million and including $3.5 million worth of land purchases for properties adjoining the landfill in expectation of expansion; $275,000 for site construction in Essex; $1.2 million for new liner and expansion; and several million dollars worth of equipment over the planned five years.

Other planned projects include equipment and vehicle purchases for the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office; $315,000 worth of exterior improvements for the county fairgrounds; and several million dollars over five years for equipment and projects for the county road department.

Pence also said the county expects to complete a major detention center expansion costing about $14 million, but that project is not part of the current five-year plan and would likely be subject to a voted bond levy.

The entire Flathead County Capital Improvement Plan is available online at www.flathead.mt.gov/finance/downloads.php.