A top county official told commissioners Wednesday night that construction on the Uptown parking garage won’t start until the end of July and its final tab could be between $7.2 million to $7.5 million.
Officials had hoped work would begin this month, but Community Development Director Karen Byrnes said civil drawings are not complete nor are development agreements with Park Street properties that will be adjacent to the garage.
Byrnes also reiterated that the garage would not be funded with property tax increases, something county officials are sensitive about noting because the proposed outdoor public pool and lazy river would mean increased property taxes.
Voters will decide this Tuesday whether to approve $7.2 million in tax increases to foot most of the pool construction bill and an additional $350,000 in annual maintenance costs.
“It (the parking garage) is not an increase on any individual’s taxes at all,” Byrnes told commissioners.
The garage would be funded with bonds or a loan that would be repaid with property taxes captured in an Uptown tax-increment financing district (TIF).
New developments that add tax value to such areas are captured and can be reinvested in that area. The new $25 million NorthWestern Energy building Uptown is the cornerstone of a TIF that was redrawn in 2014.
Byrnes recently told the Urban Revitalization Agency board, which oversees the Uptown TIF, that the garage could cost $7.5 million. That would be $500,000 more than initial projections of between $6 million and $7 million that county officials had stuck to for months.
Byrnes told commissioner the higher figure included such things as design and engineering and costs of financing the garage, among other things. It might also include a little more money for construction.
But Byrnes acknowledged she had not previously made public distinctions between hard and soft costs and said a final tab should become known in the coming weeks as drawings and agreements are finalized. As it stands, it would cost between $7.2 million to $7.5 million.
Jim Fisher, one of three commissioners challenging Chief Executive Matt Vincent for his post this year, has been critical of a no-bid process the county used for the first time to select the primary builder of the garage — Sletten Construction of Great Falls.
Byrnes said the process allows designers and builders to collaborate on a project along the way to hold down costs, and it may already have led to savings on the garage.
But Fisher said county officials and others working on the project were missing key players.
“There isn’t an elected person who is making decisions or driving this bus,” he said.
Byrnes said Vincent — who was elected chief executive — was part of the group. Vincent also came to Byrnes’ defense, saying all commissioners had authorized the county to use a state-sanctioned no-bid process at times.
“I have lost my patience with all this political posturing every time this comes up,” he said.