Thursday, December 01, 2005

Reduced Road Construction Costs Should Be Returned To Taxpayers, Not Split With Contractor

Prepared Comments Made to
November 28, 2005

Last Monday night, November 21, 2005, I sat in this chamber as a spectator to observe the actions of the North Canton City Council. As you all know, this body is charged with ensuring that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely.

As a citizen and taxpayer of this city, I observed that this council and the administration apparently feel that the funds supporting expenditures authorized by this body represent little more than Monopoly money instead of taxpayer dollars.

In last week’s Council of the Whole meeting, City Administrator Michael Miller provided the details regarding the purpose of Ordinance 213-05 which “…authorizes the city to enter into an amended agreement (change order), in the amount of a reduction of $100,000 for the South Main Street/Everhard Road Project.”

Mr. Miller explained that the contractor had found a “better way” to construct a retaining wall that was to be built in the course of the bridge and roadway project and that this “better way” had resulted in a reduction in construction costs on the project of $200,000. Mr. Miller continued with his explanation by saying that the savings on the project would be split with the contractor!

My first question as I sat in the audience was why split the reduction in the cost of the project with the contractor? Furthermore, I was dismayed that not one council member had the same question!

I have learned that the details behind the savings come from the fact that the contractor has proposed building a retaining wall in a less conservative manner than specified in the original engineering design. More specifically, the contractor is now being allowed to reduce the depth of the retaining wall by five feet.

The engineering design firm for the project was CT Consultants. Did CT Consultants over design the project?

The reduction in the depth of the retaining wall simplifies the project for the contractor. Do the less conservative engineering requirements for the construction of the retaining wall do anything for the public taxpayer?

Shouldn’t a reduction in the complexity and cost of a project that amounts to $200,000 be returned to the taxpayers?

Apparently, someone in government believes that taxpayer dollars should be handed out to contractors in circumstances like these and to make it more palatable the bureaucrats call this “value engineering.”

To take a phrase from commentator, Paul Harvey, the rest of the story is that North Canton taxpayers overpaid for a project by $200,000. The good news is that $100,000 of that amount is being returned to the taxpayer. The bad news is that another $100,000 is being forfeited to the contractor for finding an engineering firm willing to reduce the required specifications for the project. That information was not told to the readers of the Repository in their story titled “South Main bridge repair project to start in April” reported on Tuesday, November 22, 2005.

The losses to North Canton taxpayers at this meeting did not stop with the giveaway of $100,000 to a contractor who was able to convince another engineering firm that the original design of the project was overbuilt. City Administrator Michael Miller enumerated a situation at the city water treatment plant in which a delivery of chemicals to the plant was incorrectly offloaded and mixed with other chemicals. The resulting hazardous mixture had to be properly disposed of by a contractor at a cost of $32,000.

If there was no culpability on the part of the city for this error, as Mr. Miller detailed, why is this council allowing taxpayer funds to pay for the expense of cleanup and disposal?

At this point in the council meeting, council had spent $132,000 of taxpayer dollars and the taxpayer had received absolutely nothing in return!

So much for ensuring that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely. There appears to be no checks and balances on the spending of city government with this council.

The jaw dropper for me at last week’s meeting was when this council refused to return a $75 deposit to the surviving family members of an elderly lady who had reserved the Civic Center for a December 26, 2005, birthday celebration/reunion and who had unfortunately passed away before the planned family gathering.

With the exception of Mr. Lindower who urged that the deposit be refunded, the decision by the rest of council is truly heartless.

This family, their relatives, their friends, and everyone they talk to for the rest of their lives will know the story of their request for consideration in their time of great loss and the cold denial North Canton City Council offered them in return.

Every time this family tells this story, they will relive this memory: City leaders in North Canton are heartless and they have no concern for their citizens. That refusal to accommodate this grieved family is certainly a testament to that fact.

This is not a good way to promote the City of North Canton!

This council did not show any concern during the meeting that $132,000 of taxpayer dollars was expended during the course of this meeting and in return taxpayers received nothing.

And yet at the end of this council meeting when it came to a very minor sum of $75 that actually did not originate from taxpayer funds, this council scrutinized it with great concern. How can this be?

The attitude that has pervaded this council body for many years that money grows on the Dogwood trees here in North Canton is about to end and soon everyone will wonder where did all the money go!

Thank you
Chuck Osborne
City of North Canton