Commissioners: Prioritization key for capital project allocations

LIMA — When it comes to county capital projects, the needs far surpass the available funds, so Allen County commissioners are stressing the need to prioritize which projects need to be addressed immediately and which ones can wait or find alternative funding.

At a meeting Tuesday morning, commissioners discussed some of the capital project requests already submitted by county agencies, such as new boilers for Veterans Memorial Civic Center and the Allen County Jail and information technology upgrades for the auditor’s office. The board currently has just over $2.3 million in capital funding, thanks to the state’s casinos bringing in about $1.3 million annually and that money being earmarked for capital projects. Still, that is not nearly enough to fund every capital request the board has received, which is currently totaling at $4.4 million, almost twice the amount available.

According to Commissioner Cory Noonan, that amount currently on hand would barely cover routine maintenance on county-owned buildings.

“Back in 2018, we brought a crew in to look at our buildings, and they estimated that to do the routine maintenance on our buildings and stuff was $2.3 million, and that’s just routine maintenance,” he said. “That wouldn’t cover a new roof or anything like that. We’re deficient on the amount of money we have to take care of things, so it makes this a challenge because you’re prioritizing, and then a pipe breaks and that becomes the priority if there’s an issue.”

Some requests have already been approved, such as a $53,000 transit van for Allen County Veterans Services, but discussions remain ongoing for how to allocate the rest of the funds. Commissioners discussed possibly capping allocations at $2 million for this year, keeping the remainder of $345,000 as a buffer in case of emergencies, with that money rolling over into next year if unused. Having that emergency capital funding available is valuable, Commissioner Beth Seibert said, as unforeseen emergency projects do come up.

“As an emergency, we approved $18,800 for an overhead door that went haywire just over a week ago and is used every day at the sheriff’s office for vehicles to go down the ramp,” she said. “The cable snapped and the door bent, and that wasn’t on any list or request.”

The commissioners office plans to send a message to county agencies in the next few weeks to check in and see if there are any new capital-related needs that have arisen since the county’s budget review last fall.