Money bill redux: Capital spending set for Vermont State Hospital, Montpelier biomass plant

first_imgby Anne Galloway, www.vtdigger.org(link is external) May 9, 2011 Democratic lawmakers compromised with little difficulty on their few disagreements over specific expenditures in the capital bill last week. The sticking points ‘ money for a Montpelier biomass plant, funding for replacement plans for the Vermont State Hospital and a commitment to give the Vermont Telecommunications Authority significant funding for broadband ‘ came down to details, all of which were easily surmountable.The biggest change, proposed by Gov. Peter Shumlin, was a practical consideration that lawmakers embraced. Instead of passing a budget that is good for one year, as had been the practice for many years, Shumlin proposed a two-year capital budget. The first year is front-loaded with $92 million so that construction on new projects can continue unimpeded by changes in the political landscape. The second year budget, about $61 million, will be based on a capital budget adjustment that with the exception of a few ‘fenced off’ projects will be subject to re-evaluation in the fiscal year 2012 budget cycle.‘I think it’s a very good bill that is the result of very hard work throughout the session,’ said Sen. Bob Hartwell, D-Bennington.The two-year game plan gave the members of the House and Senate institutions committees some heartburn because the planning process was more rigorous, but lawmakers saw the advantages of the new system right away. Rep. Alice Emmons, D-Springfield, is pleased that particularly important construction projects, like the Colchester health lab slated to receive $28 million, won’t stall because of a lack of state funding. Local communities and local contractors will benefit from the two-year planning cycle, Emmons said.‘It’s really an economic development bill,’ Emmons said. ‘The longer contract has a ripple affect across the state.’Download a spreadsheet of the expendituresRead the conference committee reportThe state’s outlay for construction projects in fiscal year 2012 will include $7 million for the renovation of the Montpelier heating plant after all. (The Senate cut the funding, but restored it after language was added to the bill that tightens reporting requirements.)The Vermont State Hospital, which originally was given short shrift in the House version of the bill (it had been slated for $482,000 in carry forward money only) will now receive $2 million in new money for planning.The state lost federal certification for the Vermont State Hospital in 2003. Every year the state runs the hospital without the approval of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, it loses out on about $10 million in matching funds. CMS has determined that the facility is inadequate for the roughly 50 patients a day who need intensive, 24/7 mental health care.The 40-50 bed facility that would replace the existing hospital in Waterbury would be located on a four to five acre area near Central Vermont Medical Center and would include a basketball court, gardens and walking paths. The building would cost between $50 million and $60 million.‘We wanted to make sure that the Department of Buildings and General Services had the necessary resources to carry out a plan so if it works out it could be built in 2014, which would b e the end of a very long journey,’ Hartwell said.The Vermont Telecommunications Authority will receive $10 million in the first year of the capital budget and nothing in the second. Lawmakers have asked for quarterly reports to mark the VTA’s progress. The authority has been criticized for moving too slowly on the state’s broadband efforts. (Vermont has spotty wireless and fiber networks.)The VTA is authorized to bond for an additional $40 million for projects. This money has not yet been tapped.Lawmakers also included language in the bill that would make it possible for state employees to telecommute. ‘This may become a significant issue if gas becomes more expensive,’ Hartwell said.The state of Vermont maintains 4 million square feet of space for offices, courtrooms, correctional facilities and customer, service and storage areas.The state’s biggest expendituresEvery year the state invests in tangible assets ‘ office space, courtrooms, correctional facilities, information centers, schools, dam maintenance and/or historic buildings.The state’s renovation, construction expenditures and investments in this year only represents about 2 percent of the state’s $4.67 billion budget.The $153 million capital bill is a long list of state investments in a hodgepodge of projects ‘ office building maintenance, statehouse renovations, water pollution control, school construction, park facilities, parking lots, information technology, broadband and affordable housing and conservation.Rep. Alice Emmons, D-Springfield, and the chair of the committee said the bill was challenging to put together, but the long-term planning approach is advantageous. In the past, a major project couldn’t ‘put a shovel in the ground until all the money was in hand,’ she said.‘We’re guaranteeing money for two years, and the state can start construction right away,’ Emmons said.A new $28 million health labThe health lab will be located on land owned by the University of Vermont, and it will be situated near the Colchester Research Facility off exit 16 on Interstate 89. A feasibility study of the project has been completed for the 58,000 to 59,000 square foot structure. The construction will cost $28 million, and the building will include labs for environmental chemistry, microbiology and radiological testing. The health lab will accommodate up to 52 employees. The project will go out to bid in the late fall, and construction is expected to take 18 months.Energy efficiency for state buildings a high priorityLawmakers have also set energy efficiency targets for state buildings. The objective is for the state to reduce energy consumption by 5 percent a year on a three-year, rolling average. The Department of Buildings and General Services will be charged with measuring results. In addition, the state will ask employees to lower their fuel use for transportation by the same amount over the next three years. Emmons said the Vermont State Employees Association is comfortable with the targets.The capital bill also includes the following items:Lawmakers have set aside $200,000 for the renovation of two to three Statehouse committee rooms. The House Speaker will decide which rooms will get a facelift. Last year, House Corrections and Institutions and a small conference room got a facelift.The state is looking to overhaul 120 State St., where the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Department of Education are now located. Some members of the DOE staff are now working at a satellite office on the Barre-Montpelier Road, and the administration wants to bring all those employees back to 120 State St. Lawmakers have set aside $250,000 to renovate historic restrooms on the ground floor of the building and $250,000 for plans to retrofit the whole structure.The Secretary of State’s office will be moving this spring to the newly renovated 128 State St. (where Shumlin’s transition team was briefly housed. The Redstone Building where the offices are currently located will be mothballed for the time being. Emmons said they don’t want to let go of state-owned property until they know for sure the space isn’t needed.The Department of Corrections has asked for $1.4 million for renovations in order to move inmates to new locations. It will cost $454,000 to renovate the Chittenden County Correctional Facility to accommodate women from the all-female St. Albans facility. The state wants to spend $800,000 in retrofits for the St. Albans prison, which will be leased to U.S. Marshals for use as a detention center.Lawmakers have set aside $5 million ($2.5 million in each of the fiscal years 2012 and 2013) for the consolidation of the Rockingham and Brattleboro State Police barracks and construction of one public safety field station.The Department of Information and Innovation is to receive $5.78 million for the upgrade of the human resources computer system.Vermont Public Television will receive $805,750 in fiscal year 2012. There is no money budgeted for VPT in fiscal year 2013. The money is to be spent on field production equipment, energy conservation retrofitting at the Colchester studio and a fixed satellite uplink. Ann Curran, VPT community relations director, said the funding is part of a three-phase plan to upgrade the studio’s digital television infrastructure.The Vermont Housing and Conservation Board would receive $4 million, with a provision that the board make affordable housing preservation and infill projects in or near downtowns or village centers a priority. In addition, $500,000 of the funding must go toward the creation of public inebriate beds and transitional housing for inmates. Up to 20 percent of the total appropriation is to be allocated for conservation awards that maximize the drawdown of federal and private matching funds. Anne Galloway is editor of vtdigger.orglast_img

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