Basalt officials determine they won’t have to cough up more funds for underpass
Basalt officials have determined they will not have to bust into the town’s piggybanks for more funds to build a pedestrian underpass.
Even though the town isn’t receiving as much in federal and state grants as originally thought, they have enough revenue to cover the $7.14 million project, Judi Tippetts, assistant town manager, informed the finance committee last week.
“There is good news at the end of this,” she said as she started her presentation.
The pedestrian underpass is being built near the intersection of Highway 82 and Basalt Avenue. It will provide a safe alternative to pedestrians crossing seven lanes of traffic on Highway 82 and also will eliminate delays for vehicles waiting for pedestrians.
Tippetts and Nick Senn, an engineer for the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority and senior manager of the underpass project, discovered a shortfall in anticipated revenue last month and reported it to the finance committee, which is made up of council members.
Interim Town Manager Davis Farrar said the staff tracked down how the mistake was made.
The study confirmed that revenue was going to be $408,620 less than expected. Town and RFTA officials misinterpreted information from the Colorado Department of Transportation about the amount of grants awarded.
The assumption was the project received state and federal grants that totaled $2.443 million plus a separate grant for $280,000 through a program called Safe Routes to School.
Senn contended the general notification from CDOT was vague on the funds awarded. He said he had “terse conversations” with CDOT officials to try to straighten the issue out.
“Finally they said, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, tiger, you’re asking for too much,’” Senn said.
In addition, CDOT sent information referring to matching amounts of $66,120 and $62,500. Town officials interpreted that the funds were awarded, but CDOT was conveying that the town had to match those amounts to receive larger overall grants amounts.
That was another $128,620 shortfall, boosting the total deficit in revenue to $408,620.
Tippetts and Senn presented various memos and agreements to the finance committee Thursday to show the paper trail on the mistakes.
Finance committee member and Councilman Bernie Grauer said he felt a balance sheet that had been sent by CDOT to the town and RFTA was clear and the mistake was in the interpretation that another $280,000 was coming.
“That was an error and I don’t see that supported by what CDOT gave you,” he said.
But there was a third mistake made with the numbers that worked in favor of the town. Two budget amounts were being used for reasons that aren’t clear. For example, a memo from then-Town Manager Mike Scanlon to the Basalt Town Council on May 10, 2016, presented details of the contract for the pedestrian underpass with United Companies. That contract, approved by the council, was for $7.14 million.
However, a funding agreement circulated among Basalt, RFTA and Pitkin County on Aug. 25 spelled out funding for what was identified as a $7.57 million project.
It was suggested that the differing budget amounts had been used by Scanlon while he was piecing together funding for the project. Scanlon parted ways with the town unexpectedly in early August after ongoing disputes with some board members. In his wake, the two budget projections made it into official documents.
Senn said the underpass will indeed come in at or even possibly below the $7.14 million budget. One big advantage during construction was the water table didn’t rise before the concrete underground structure was poured. Runoff didn’t really ramp up until early June.
“Our river techs said we were going to hit River Nile under there,” Senn said. “We didn’t.”
Most of the underground work has been completed. Now most of the work involves landscaping and “putting together” Highway 82, Senn said.
So, even though the project has $408,620 less in revenue than some officials expected, the expenses are coming in at the lower of two budgets that floated around. The bottom line, Tippetts said, is Basalt won’t have to find any additional funds for the project.
The final ledger shows Basalt paying $2.95 million, Pitkin County Open Space and Trails paying $400,000, Pitkin County paying $240,000, Elected Officials Transportation Committee paying $750,000, RFTA paying $500,000 and CDOT providing $2.31 million in state and federal grants.
While all is well that ends well, the finance committee and staff agreed that in the future, one staff person should oversee all grant applications. As many as five staff members worked on applications for different grants for this project.
“It’s almost like the buck didn’t stop anywhere,” Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said.
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Kevin Warner started his career with the U.S. Forest Service as a wilderness ranger in 2001. Now he’s taking over the key position as Aspen-Sopris District Ranger.