In early 2007, the City entered into a nearly $1 million bloated Phase I Winslow Way Streetscape contract with Heery International that was at least as much about selling the Streetscape project to the public as it was about the initial design process. For a City of our size, this was a reckless use of taxpayer money under any circumstances. But now, at a time when our financial reality dictates that the City bite off no more than one or two capital projects a year, when the City has already undertaken a $12.8 million sewer plant upgrade, when roads across the Island are long overdue for repair and preservation work and budget cuts will send so many community organizations home empty handed, the $1.4 million Phase II Heery contract before Council tonight is simply appalling.
Just take a look at last year’s Phase I contract and Phase II now before Council and prepare to be amazed. Follow the links here and here and read the contracts for yourselves. You can probably skip the fill-in-the blank contracts (that’s right, million dollar fill-in-the-blank contracts) and just review the fee matrices in the attachments. This is one of those situations where you don’t need our help – the documents are fairly self-explanatory and should make any taxpayer cringe.
We are paying consultants to talk to consultants, consultants to talk to staff and consultants to talk to the public. We are paying consultants to oversee consultants who are considering the issues, paying them to create documents and presentation materials memorializing the recommendations, then paying them to address Council to explain the recommendations. We are paying for workshops, charettes, roundtables, coffees, graphics, displays and banners. And to top it off, we are paying consultants to prepare the very invoices they will use to bill the City.
Probably the most jaw-dropping statistic is how much the City will have paid for Streetscape related public relations work after the completion of Heery’s Phase II contract. A conservative estimate – tallying up only those tasks listed in the two contracts that are clearly public relations related – would be just over $229,000. In other words, the same amount that was to be spent on the Senior Center renovation this year or more than enough to cover what was to be spent on trail acquisition and construction this year – items expected to be reduced or eliminated from the 2009 (or 2008) budget.
Looking at a recent list of other possible spending reductions prepared by the Administration, we get a glimpse of what else might be sacrificed in the desperate attempt to fund the Streetscape. Among the cuts proposed, some will impact public safety such as eliminating an emergency satellite phone, delaying the hire of two new patrol officers, delaying repair to patrol cars and eliminating the Island’s Emergency Preparedness Coordinator.
Another interesting cut would be the elimination of the “Wyatt Water Main Upgrade”. The result of cutting this item would be “continued low pressure and flow along Wyatt between Madison and Grow”. Would that be fire flow by any chance? That may be a very relevant question as it is also noted that this water main, which runs along an area destined for perhaps the largest future redevelopment effort in Winslow (including the Government Way surplused navy housing), “may be upgraded without City expense by future development”. Apparently some developers are more equal than others.
The Administration appears to be really scraping the barrel with it’s proposed cuts, yet it refuses to tighten the belt on the Heery contract. Consider the proposal to reduce the frequency of sewer main cleanings to once every three years (already down from an annual cleaning as of 2004) to save a paltry $5,000, while at the same time advocating for spending more than $40,000 for three Fourth of July Streetscape booths over a three-year period under the Heery Contracts.
And why are we paying Heery, an international uber-firm, to manage the project at all? Why not handle project management and public relations in house? “Administration and Project Management” will cost the City $96, 972 under Phase II, along with $28,773 in “Reimbursable Expenses”. What does this entail? Well, under the Phase I contract, and an earlier version of Phase II, the individual tasks were line-itemed along with their associated fees. Under the latest iteration of the Phase II contract, the generic term “Administration and Project Management” appears under each of the four work phases of the contract along with an all inclusive fee. On page 7 of the scope of work (Attachment A), the functions included in Administration and those included in Project Management are broadly detailed.
We think it might have been more useful to see a breakdown of the costs associated with each administration and management task. One of the more interesting fees listed in the Phase I contract was $24,656 to “Provide monthly report to COBI with updated budget, schedules, and summary of work during period along with monthly invoice. Recurring, 8 months”. In other words, Heery billed the City over $3,000 per month for a monthly summary and bill. Another interesting item from the Phase I contract was the $8,928 authorized for the presentation of the 30% Streetscape design (the final product of Phase I) to Council. If one assumes a 60 minute presentation, it was to cost the City $148 per minute to hear the results of the hundreds of thousands of dollars in design work it had paid for.
Looking back at that list of proposed cuts, we find that $30,000 could be saved by finishing the Waterfront Master Plan with staff rather than consultants. What’s even more amazing than the fact that our in house planning staff is capable of planning and design (who knew?) is the idea that there would be any question of whether consultants would continue to be hired to do anything that the City’s existing staff could adequately accomplish. Surely with no cash and no bonding capacity the City’s goal should be to find and harness the talent within, just as any reasonable homeowner would do-it-himself or go without when times are tough.
Where should our City Council go from here? Eliminate Heery and eliminate the Streetscape elements still included in the project, and they will be eliminating many, if not all, of the questions surrounding the legality of billing the project to the Utility ratepayers, and will be approaching a financially sound solution for this project. It does not appear that a majority of the Council is likely to find this path on it’s own. It's up to the community to pick up our pitchforks (figurative or virtual) and head to tonight’s Council meeting, by foot or by e-mail, to help perhaps just one of our lost Councilors find his or her way back to the realm of reason and responsibility.
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