Funding from Larimer County's .25% sales tax for behavioral health services is flowing back to the community. Fort Collins Coloradoan
Larimer County and Fort Collins officials are sharply at odds about the location of the countys taxpayer-supported behavioral health facility.
More than a year of work and $1 million has gone toward designingthe facility, which is tentatively scheduled to open in summer 2022. The center would provide multiple levels of behavioral health care, including detox and crisis intervention.
But for several months, Fort Collins has been raising concerns about locating the facility as proposed on a 40-acre site owned by the county at the northwest corner of Taft Hill and Trilby roads.
The site is south of the current county landfill. It is east of a proposed trash transfer station and recycling facility for construction material that would be built when the landfill closes, potentially in the next two to four years. A new landfill would be built north of Wellington.
The Larimer County Behavioral Health Facility would be on a 40-acre site located northwest of the intersection of Taft Hill and Trilby roads.(Photo: Kevin Duggan/Fort Collins Coloradoan)
City officials say the site is inappropriate for a health facility given the proximity of the proposed industrial operations.
These types of industrial activities even with excellent management can be noisy and dusty, which would negatively impact a health-oriented facility and seems inconsistent with the types of treatment that would be administered, city officials stated in a letter to Laurie Stolen, director of Larimer County Behavioral Health Services.
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County officials say the transfer station would be fully enclosed in a large building. It would not be seen or heard from the behavioral health facility.
Other concerns raised by the city include a lack of public transportation to the site, its distance from other health care facilities, and the potential for reinforcing the stigma attached to mental health issues by sending clients to a facility next to a landfill.
The letter dated June 15 was sent after a joint meeting of the Fort Collins City Council and the Board of County Commissioners, during which they discussed the citys concerns. The county commissioners responded to the council by inviting the city to dedicate staff time to searching for an alternate site.
The letter signed by Commissioner Steve Johnson gives the city 45 days to come up with alocationit finds more suitable.
County criteria to be considered in the search should include a site that is at least 40 acres in size, served by or close to utilities, centrally located to serve all of the countys communities, available for a price of between $2 million to $4 million, and able to accommodate a 58,000-square-foot building that would provide several levels of services.
The Board of Larimer County Commissioners is reluctant to abandon planning, design and staff/consultation effort already completed on the Behavioral Health Facility, so work will continue during the time Fort Collins staff leads a search for an alternate site, the countys letter of June 16 stated.
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In an interview, Johnson said he expects the city will have a hard time finding a better location for the Behavioral Health Facility than what is currently proposed. Properly zoned commercial property that meets the countys criteria is rare, he said.
If they were willing to give us some of their open space on the other side of the road 40 acres with less infrastructure costs to extend utilities I think we would consider that, he said. But we really need to stop opening this wound and re-examining it because were getting to the point that its going to be time to start construction.
The facility and other behavioral health services are funded through a 0.25% sales tax voters approved in 2018. The facility is expected to cost about $29.8 million to build and about $15 million a year to operate and maintain.
Over time and as the county grows, additional buildings might be added to the site, creating a campus for behavioral health services. Potentially, it might have supported housing for clients.
The county has contracted with SummitStone Health Partners, in a partnership with UCHealth, to provide a continuum of treatment and crisis services at the center, according to a county website.
A selling point to voters for the sales tax was identifying a location for a facility that was easily accessible to Loveland and Fort Collins residents. The county already owns the land, saving real estate costs.
Picking another location could cost the county $3 million to $5 million through lost design work and land acquisition, Johnson said.
During an interview in March, Mayor Wade Troxell said the city realizes a lot of effort has gone into planning the facility for the property at Taft Hill and Trilby roads.
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The city supports the mission of the countys Behavioral Health Services and the facility. But more thought needs to go into the projects location, Troxellsaid.
During the election, the support was about the operational functions of needing a health facility and not so much on where it would be located, Troxell said.
The county should explore additional partnerships with area health care providers to potentially use existing facilities, he said.
Short-term financial gains from locating the facility near the landfill might not justify the long-term consequences of the location, he said. Among the citys concerns is the possible presence of harmful gases leeching from the landfill.
This should be less about bricks and mortar and more about distributed services, he said. If the data is there to support putting it there, wewould be happy to look at it.
The county has heard the citys concernsbut doesnt agree with them, Johnson said. It will conduct testing on the site for methane and other potentially harmful gases.
It also will hold a neighborhood meeting or open house to present information about the facility to the community.
Fort Collins officials have known about the preferred location of the behavioral health facility for a couple of years. No other entities, including health care professionals on various advisory boards, have voiced concerns about the facilitys location, Johnson said.
I find this all a bit baffling, he said.
Kevin Duggan is a senior columnist and reporter. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.Support his work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.
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Larimer County, Fort Collins spar over location of behavioral health facility - Coloradoan
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