Trustees approve Guaranty Bank building purchase

Berthoud Trustees discussed the option to purchase the Guaranty Bank building for use as a new town hall facility at its Tuesday meeting, however; Town Administrator Mike Hart told them that no decision would be made until the March 22 meeting at the earliest. Surveyor photo

Berthoud Trustees voted 5-1, with one trustee absent, to purchase the Guaranty Bank building in Berthoud as a new location for Town Hall.
Surveyor photo

Bank building will be site of new Town Hall

By John Gardner
The Surveyor

The Berthoud Board of Trustees approved the purchase of the Guaranty Bank and Trust Building to use as a new Berthoud Town Hall in a 5-1 vote at its Tuesday meeting. Trustee Paul Alaback was the lone no vote. Trustee Suzi White was absent from the meeting.

After nearly two hours of board discussion and comments from a few residents concerned with the purchase, the board ultimately passed the ordinance approving $2.4 million of public funds to be used: $800,000 from each of the town’s general fund, water utilities and wastewater funds. The town will purchase the bank outright, circumventing a voter approved bond issue that would require the town take on more debt. On a positive, the town will purchase the building with cash and there won’t be a loan to repay, which Mayor David Gregg thought was a good deal.

“I find it hard to pass an opportunity such as this that is so compelling from a financial standpoint,” Gregg said.

Berthoud town staff provided several cost comparisons for similar buildings that are currently being renovated or built in other nearby towns. The report included: City of Longmont is spending $186 per square foot for a renovation of existing town hall; Erie is preparing for a renovation of its town hall at the cost of $560 per square foot; Mead is doing a renovation for $190 per square foot; The Town of Milliken spent $346 per square foot for its town hall. In comparison, the town is purchasing the Guaranty Bank building for $92 per square foot.

“The opportunity before us is to acquire Class A space for our town business center at $92 per square foot, I think that is incredibly compelling,” Gregg said. “I take the job that we have as trustees of being good stewards of the community’s money is very important; that is a primary concern for me.”

Typically, when an ordinance is passed there is a 30-day period after a notice is published in the paper of record before the ordinance goes into effect. An emergency clause that would have allowed the ordinance take effect immediately upon approval was added to the motion, Tuesday. However, Alaback’s “no” vote on the motion including the emergency clause struck down that option. Trustee Chris Buckridge made a second motion without the emergency clause that passed 5-1 again with Alaback voting no. The ordinance won’t take effect immediately and will still take the required 30 days for the deal to close if the bank agrees to amend the closing date.

Mayor Gregg commented that he hoped that Guaranty Bank would be willing to work with the town on extending the closing date, which was set for March 31.

Town Administrator Mike Hart was pleased with the trustees’ decision.

“My job as staff is to take the board all the data needed to make decisions; I think we did that and at that point it was up to the board,” he said after the vote.

Four residents took to the podium during the public comment period; all opposed the purchase and no one from the public spoke in favor of the deal.

One of those opposed was current trustee candidate Jeff Hindman who came with rough construction plans and cost comparisons for a building at the site of the Berthoud Skate Park and the town’s Streets Department to provide trustees and the public with additional information on how much a new facility at that site could possibly cost. Hindman also took issue with the process the town went through in this purchase saying that it was secretive.

“The decision to move town hall out of downtown and to not use the skate park and streets department site which was bought specifically for the purpose of a new town hall, that’s a policy decision. That’s not a negotiation. That’s not a executive session secret matter,” he said. “That’s a policy decision that should be widely distributed to the public similar to what is being done with the PORT plan. You should be getting input from citizens whose money this is.”

Hindman argued that there hasn’t been enough time to consider any alternative options with the deal only being announced March 4, a little over two weeks before the board voted to approve the deal. He urged trustees to take more time to get input and to get this deal right.

“Before you go spend a bunch of money you don’t have, you really need to consider the options and get some public input,” Hindman said. “There’s no crisis. There’s no rush.”

He and others were also concerned with spending money from the town’s utilities funds to cover two-thirds of the cost. Milan Karspeck, who also spoke during public comment period, argued a similar point saying that raw water and wastewater funds are to be used for purchasing raw water and infrastructure equipment, but not a town hall. To which Hart disagreed.

“My response to that is that it would not be equitable to not let the raw water funds share in some manner with this purchase,” Hart said. “To say that no business occurs in this building pertinent to raw water is terribly inaccurate.”

Some trustees like Jennifer Baker asked Hart to clarify for the public if using these funds would hinder the town’s ability to complete already scheduled projects for the water treatment plant in the next couple of years. Hart is confident that there won’t be any impacts on maintaining the town’s current infrastructure and raw water needs even with the purchase.

“Does this jeopardize in any fashion our ability to water things? No. I don’t think it does,” Hart said.

Trustee Dick Shepard said that the residents he’s talked to are in support of this deal and that the decision boils down to jumping on an opportunity to buy a new town hall facility with cash or for the town to take on additional debt to build a new building in the next couple of years, which could prove problematic since there is currently talk about asking voters to approve a recreation district this November to help fund a much wanted recreation center.

“For me, what we need to consider is whether we pass this opportunity up to do something in the future and adding debt load to a community that is looking forward to a rec district that we need to form,” Shepard said.

For Trustee Alaback, he said that this decision shouldn’t be only about saving money, but about the vision for Berthoud’s future. He spoke about the importance of keeping with the 16-year-old plan of building a new town hall at the Berthoud Skate Park site, which would create a town center with the Berthoud Community Library, a fire station, The Berthoud Community Center and the Little Thompson Valley Pioneer Museum all within the same block.

“We should be looking 20 years in to the future,” Alaback said. “Are we going to look back and say I’m so glad we saved a little bit of money in buying that bank building and I’m so glad our town hall is in a shopping center rather than being downtown?”

Mayor Gregg said that his vision of Berthoud’s downtown–20 years from now–spans from the 1st Street roundabout all the way to Highway 287. And that moving to the Guaranty Bank building puts town hall on Mountain Avenue in that downtown area. Other trustees including Jan Dowker, Buckridge, Baker and Shepard agreed.

Gregg defended the move by saying that when given an opportunity such as this, government needs to work more quickly to make tough decisions.

“Taking advantage of opportunities does sometimes mean changing plans that have been in place for some time, but that doesn’t mean that that is going to be a bad decision,” Gregg said.