Tuesday, July 31, 2001

Agencies submit wish lists

Plans still grandiose despite lack of money

By Mark R. Chellgren
The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — The state agency representatives gathered last week before the Capital Planning Advisory Board looked like kids waiting in line to talk to Santa Claus, Christmas lists clutched tightly in nervous hands.

        There may not be much in the bag of goodies for the General Assembly to deliver in 2002, in stark contrast to the last two sessions, when it was so bulging it barely got down the chimney.

        But the prospect of ending up with the equivalent of lumps of coal in their stockings hasn't kept state agencies from having visions of sugarplums — or at least grand new buildings — dancing in their heads.

        “It's a hope and wish list,” said Rep. Perry Clark, D-Louisville, chairman of the planning board.

        The board was created about a decade ago to try to impose some discipline, or at least thoughtfulness, on state agency capital planning. The Natural Resources Cabinet is testament to the willy-nilly approach used for decades in providing for state government's major equipment and physical plant needs.

        The cabinet occupies space in 22 locations in Frankfort alone. Two-thirds of the space is leased and one particularly notorious location, the Ash Building, is in the flood plain of the Kentucky River and has been under water three times in the last 13 years. Each time the cabinet moved back in after the mud was moved out.

        The lists presented to the board last week are instructive about the priorities of the various agencies and can also give some hint about plans, programmatic as well as territorial.

        Unlike previous years, the total dollar value of the requests was not compiled, but it easily reaches into the billions over the six years of the plans.

        There is a difference between needs and wants among the various proposals.

        Several years ago, the University of Louisville wanted money to buy a couple of boats; ships almost, with one of them more than 60-feet long, ostensibly to carry on river research. In the coming budget period, U of L said it most needs a new research building, albeit one that would cost $98 million.

        Two years ago, the fledgling Community and Technical College System listed a $15.4 million headquarters building for itself as its most pressing need. A headquarters is now No.9 on the system's priority list, but at a price of $20.3 million.

        The Natural Resources Cabinet does not list a building as its top capital priority, but money to repair dams.

        The Kentucky River Authority suggests it could finance bond sales to raise the height of dams and increase water supplies by increasing the fees it charges for withdrawing water from the river from 1.6 cents per 1,000 gallons to as much as 7.8 cents.

        The Kentucky Infrastructure Authority wants permission to sell another $50 million in bonds to finance the goal of providing fresh water piped to every household by 2020.

        Requests from the Corrections Department indicate the state expects prison populations to swell. The department wants to double the size of the Elliott County prison, where ground has not yet been broken for initial construction. Also, the department says it needs an entirely new 940-bed medium-security prison and two expansions of the state's only prison for women. The department also raised the issue of buying the privately operated prisons in Marion and Lee counties.

        The University of Kentucky, which traditionally has the longest and most varied wish list, asked for a delay in submitting its forms until new President Lee Todd can get on the ground and running. Many of UK's largest projects often involve its medical center, which makes enough money to finance the construction.

        On the flip side of that is Kentucky State University, which said it has a list of five dormitories that badly need renovations, but said it is in such poor financial condition it probably cannot afford to do the work on its own. Universities historically have financed their own housing and dining facilities with the proceeds of those operations.

        But the most ambitious construction agenda, if not the most expensive, comes from the judicial branch. There are 20 new courthouses requested at an estimated cost of $221 million.


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