Colorado Springs taxpayers will pay $168,000 per year to lease space in a new office building whose main purpose is to make life more convenient for developers and building contractors.
The amount has surprised some City Council members, who say they thought far less tax money, or none at all, would be spent on the new office space.
In June, city officials plan to move 19 staff members from three different departments into the new facility, the Pikes Peak Regional Development Review Center, which is nearing completion at 2880 International Circle on the city's near east side.
The 111,000-square-foot facility is being built in collaboration with El Paso County and the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department and will replace the existing Regional Building Department facility at 101 W. Costilla St.
Convenience at a cost
Planned for years, the new building will serve as a "one-stop shop" where developers, contractors and ordinary citizens can submit plans and obtain approval for everything from building a new deck to developing a subdivision. Currently, the various agencies that issue such approvals, from the county planning department to the city's fire-prevention office, are scattered in different buildings.
But the convenience comes at a cost. While much of the $17.5 million building will be paid for through fees that the agencies charge of their clients, the city has budgeted $168,000 per year in general-fund revenue to help pay for its share of the office space.
"You can describe that as taxpayer support," said Mike Anderson, the city's budget director.
The cost is $81,000 more than the $87,000 in general-fund revenue that the city currently spends to lease space for some of its planning and engineering staff in the existing Regional Building Department offices.
Vice Mayor Richard Skorman, who voted last year to approve the project, said this week he was surprised by those numbers.
"I didn't think we would incur a great deal of extra cost by being over there," Skorman said. "I'd like to have that explained to me."
Councilman Tom Gallagher said he thought the new building would be entirely funded by user fees. "I'm kind of amazed," he said.
The new facility is being funded with certificates of participation, a mechanism that allows officials to borrow money without voter approval. A corporation set up by El Paso County will technically own the building, and it will lease space to the city, county and the Regional Building Department until the debt is paid off after 20 years.
The Regional Building Department, which is entirely funded through fees, won't spend any tax money for its portion of the lease.
The county, meanwhile, has budgeted approximately $260,000 per year in general-fund revenue to help cover the leasing costs. However, county officials said that amount would come out of the county planning department's existing budget. The money was freed up when the department recently increased the fees it charges from developers and builders.
The county plans to move its entire 19-person planning department, currently on the fifth floor of the main county office building downtown, into the new building. Seven staff members from the county Department of Transportation, now on Marksheffel Road, will also move in.
The county's main office building, which the county owns outright, has several empty offices. But County Administrator Terry Harris says those will eventually be filled by the county attorney's office, which needs to relocate from the crowded County Professional Building next door.
The city will move six people from its engineering department, as well as 12 planning department staff members, from the existing Regional Building Department offices. In addition, the city will move one fire inspector from its Fire Operations Center.
Some city officials say the move won't do much for their departments.
City Engineer Gary Haynes says that while he doesn't mind the move, what would really make his department more efficient is if all of his staff could be located in the main City Administration Building.
Brett Lacey, the city's fire marshal, says it doesn't seem to make sense for him to have to move a staff person from the Fire Operations Center.
"We've got this building, and we've got space, and now we're going to go over to this new building and pay rent?" Lacey said.
Lacey says no one really consulted him on the move or has explained the benefit. "I can only speak for myself, but I feel very removed from what the purpose and process is."
So, who will benefit from the move?
"I think mostly developers," said Harris, the county administrator.
While the public will also use the new facility, the one-stop concept will mainly save time and effort for builders who need multiple different approvals -- from zoning changes to roadwork permits -- for large projects.
Deputy City Manager Dave Nickerson, meanwhile, said the building is also a good deal for the city. Unlike the existing Regional Building Department facility, the new building will eventually be partially owned by the city, through a lease-purchase agreement.
"We're actually building equity," Nickerson said.