Montrose, COLO.—The Montrose County Board of County Commissioners approved a letter to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) declining the acceptance of congressionally directed funding to be passed through the agency. In 2022, the county was awarded $7.725 million via a congressionally directed spending request approved by congress. Since being notified of the award in March of 2022, the county has worked continuously to finalize documentation required by USDA. Unfortunately, the terms and conditions required by USDA have been determined to not be in the best interest of the project, the county or the community as a whole.
“Disappointment is an understatement for how I am feeling now,” said Commissioner Roger Rash. “The courthouse is near and dear to my heart. I was hopeful that this funding would be a big boost to the project, but it is just more federal red tape that could potentially cause issues in the end. We are continuing to look at alternative ways to make this project happen.”
Although the award was announced as totaling $7.725 million, the USDA chose to utilize a last dollar in approach to funding whereby any savings under estimated construction cost would belong to USDA. This approach differs from typical grant awards where funds are awarded on a prorated basis. The end result for the courthouse project was that, depending on project cost, the county may have received little if any of the awarded amount despite having to accept all federal requirements.
Additionally, USDA required all contracts, including those between the county and its own architect and contractors to be reviewed and approved by USDA. Project oversight was to be assigned to a USDA architect based in Hawaii with any project change orders, including those during construction, to require their approval. Assigning this level of authority to a remotely located architect unfamiliar with the building and project would most certainly cause further project delays.
Another major concern was that of qualified bidders. USDA staff informed the county to expect only firms located in urban areas to qualify as bidders due to contract requirements. Awarding to distantly located firms would have escalated project costs without the guarantee of federal funds to offset added expenses. As a local project, funded with local dollars, the county wants to preserve the opportunity for local and regional firms to participate in the project. The county firmly believes there are qualified contractors in the region that deserve the right to bid on a locally funded project. The county is not willing to accept the requirement to send project dollars out of the community without affording local firms the opportunity to bid.
Montrose County is greatly appreciative of Senator Hickenlooper’s efforts to secure this funding for the project, but after significant debate believes it is in the best interest of the county and community to decline the funding. The cumulative effect of USDA requirements could have resulted in increased expenses without corresponding revenue. The bottom line result could have been a financial net negative for the project.
At this time, the county is exploring options to advance the courthouse renovation utilizing standard bidding and contracting practices.
The county’s letter to USDA is available here.