A Look At The Town’s Progress Toward Flood Recovery Part 2
In last week’s article I provided an overview of many of the Town’s flood recovery projects. While we fared better than many other communities, we have a significant amount of work to do in restoring our infrastructure and planning for future resiliency. With dozens of recovery projects, this has put a challenging spin on managing the Town’s budget.
We tightened up our normal operating budget immediately after the flood to cover our share of flood expenses. Federal and State reimbursements are available for a good portion of our repairs, but the Town must pay all the bills in full when the arrival date of reimbursement checks is often unknown. Along with all the other communities recovering from the flood, our projects are being reviewed by the funding agencies for approval in advance of and throughout the projects, in hopes that we receive the maximum possible funding.
Fortunately, we expect that insurance will cover a significant portion of our electric system repairs. What insurance does not cover, FEMA will cover, leaving us with a match of 12.5%. Glen Haven alone is a $1.6 million project. Our Light & Power crew is rebuilding to higher standards for more resiliency, with stronger cable and deeper-set poles in better locations. Just another example of how we can take advantage of this situation to build a smarter system. The Glen Haven line from Streamside Drive down County Road 43 should be complete in the next few weeks, and they will then begin to rebuild the permanent line on Fox Creek and North Fork Roads. The Retreat will be the final phase, as it requires plan approval by the Federal Highway Administration-Central Federal Lands Highway Division, due to its location.
As I explained last week, Fish Creek infrastructure repairs are the lion’s share of flood recovery costs, with the Town’s share being $6.3 million. This includes the public street connections of Brodie Avenue, Country Club Drive, Brook Drive and Scott Avenue. Of this, we expect the State of Colorado will reimburse over $300,000 and FEMA will provide us with nearly $2 million for the utilities and Town-owned trail repairs. In addition, the Federal Highway Administration will provide us with nearly $3 million for road repairs since Fish Creek Road is a major collector for US 36. The Town’s match for this project could be just over $1 million.
The Town expects to receive help from FEMA and the State for many of more than 40 “smaller” (smaller than Fish Creek!) infrastructure repairs throughout the community. These include 27 road, bridge, culvert and sidewalk repairs at a cost totaling about $2 million. The Federal Highway Administration is also helping fund about $250,000 of the Community Drive repairs due to its proximity to US 36. Also included in this group are the utilities projects outside of the Fish Creek corridor — we have about $1.7 million in electric system repair costs for about 15 projects including Glen Haven. For all of these projects the Town’s match is estimated to be about $500,000.
As you know, Town staff pursued and received several grants and other outside funding to facilitate master planning for both Fall River and Fish Creek and to prepare and protect the community during spring runoff. In hopes of increasing the outside funding to cover the Town’s repair project matches, we’re also applying for several grants through the Colorado Department of Local Affairs Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery grant program. If awarded, these grants can cover the Town’s match for qualifying repair projects. We’re also applying for about $10 million in Hazard Mitigation grants to improve resiliency and increase capacity of the rivers as they travel downtown to project the downtown commercial district and economic center of the community.
Given these complexities, you can understand why projects take time, and how flood reimbursements and expenses will affect the Town’s budget for a few years to come. As stewards of your public funds, we take this responsibility seriously. Careful budgeting by previous boards has allowed the Town to operate with about a 25 percent operating reserve in the general fund. Keeping a reserve like this is normal for municipalities, and is an indicator of financial health. We can front flood expenses by using some fund balance or shifting other budgeted funds around to cover them until reimbursements come in. Our continued goal and expectation is that the community will not see any notable changes to our services in spite of the added burden of flood recovery.
Fortunately all signs point to a strong economic recovery for Estes Park. One indicator of this is the Town’s sales tax revenues, which are up over six percent over 2013 and on track for a record year. This doesn’t mean we’ll reconsider adding in flood-delayed projects and staffing issues just yet, but it helps to know this momentum exists as we continue paying bills from the flood. All of these challenges were created by a “rainy day,” but it’s provided us with an opportunity to make Estes a better place. With your input, we’re rebuilding stronger and smarter than before.