Move raises questions, public trustee says

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Public Trustee Tom Mowle, who's running for Clerk and Recorder on the Democratic ticket, has a beef about the county's plan to move offices to the city's northwest side. Here's his take.

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On June 1, the El Paso County Administrator announced a plan to move most customer service offices from the downtown area to the former Intel facility on Garden of the Gods. This plan is to be voted upon by the County Commissioners on June 8. This vote needs to be delayed to give the public a chance to consider this proposal, and to allow fair consideration of other options.

If moving County offices is necessary, it is because the County Commissioners have neglected to maintain our facilities to the point where it may now be less expensive to buy a building and move than to fix the ones we have. Likewise, I could neglect the scheduled maintenance on my car, and at some point it would become less expensive to buy a new one than to repair it. But that would be irresponsible, and no real fiscal conservative would stick the county taxpayers with larger future costs rather than pay a smaller amount now. The "imminent catastrophic failure" cited by County Administration results from its own failure to conserve our assets.

While an office move may now be cheaper than fixing what we have, the information provided by the County does not allow the public to evaluate the actual costs. According to the County, buying the former Intel Building will cost us almost nothing once various budget items are moved around. A good deal, if true, but we have not been told if other purchase options might be even better (because they would not fully tap all those other items), nor have we been told what it should have cost to property conserve the existing buildings.

Other locations are worth considering, not only for the cost but also for the impact on service to our citizens. The County claims this move leads to "no service reduction" and in fact "improved and more effective service access." Other than increased parking, this is not true. Services like Pikes Peak Workforce Center and the Department of Human Services will be further away from the people who use them most, and less convenient by public transit.

All the county services will be further away from the soldiers at Fort Carson and the people of the Fountain Valley, compounding the earlier damage done by moving the Clerk's office in Security to Powers and Airport. This move also affects people in the real estate and legal professions, who use both the courts and the Clerk's offices, which will now be separated from each other. A location closer to downtown such as Motor City, or even along middle or South Academy, would address some of these concerns. Another option would be to move the Commissioners and the adminstrative offices out of downtown, and keep customer service closer to the central area of both the city and county.

Finally, but by no means least important, there is a tremendous opportunity cost from this plan. It would consume much of one of our great assets in luring a major high-technology employer to this area: the Intel campus. At the June 1 hearing, Commissioner Williams spoke in favor of the Garden of the Gods option, and expressed concern that moving County Offices into some other area might hurt retail. Retail is important, but we have an even greater need for primary jobs that bring wealth into the area. El Paso County has fewer civilian jobs in 2010 than it did 10 years ago (though 100,000 more people). With the Intel facility gone, the Economic Development Corporation's ability to attract industry is reduced, and our future economic prosperity is compromised.

I ask the County Commissioners to delay action on this proposal until they, and the public, have had a fair chance to consider alternatives to this specific move. Let's not rush such a major decision in only one week, and with only a sketchy PowerPoint to review. Let's not pretend it is "conservative" to spend more to replace buildings they should have cared for in the first place. And if we have to buy new buildings for the Commissioners, let's make sure that in the future we have elected officials who will take proper care of them.

Tom Mowle
El Paso County Public Trustee

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