At a special City Council meeting on June 13 to discuss the controversial city hall renovations project, some councilors expressed concerns with the lack of transparency in the bid process, while others inexplicably claimed ignorance about the financial realities of moving forward with a project that will cost taxpayers an additional $700,000 over the original amount.
Around 20 residents attended the meeting. The segment of the meeting related to the city hall project opened with city comptroller Adam Blowers giving an overview of the city’s current and projected financial situation. Blowers explained that the city will need to borrow (or “bond”) a significant amount of money over the next few years to complete upcoming DRI projects, including the 5&20 updates and the five corners improvements.
When the city reaches a certain debt level, interest rates for borrowing more money increase sharply. It’s projected that the city will be very close to (or at) that level within the next several years, and adding another unexpected $700,000 would be risky and even unwise. If the city reaches a certain level of debt, the state could begin overseeing the city’s finances in some way, and the city would likely be forced to stop borrowing any more money, which could cause serious issues should some kind of emergency expenses arise.
Councilors Question the Bid Process
As council discussed the renovation project, questions and concerns about the bid process were expressed by several councilors. There were questions asked about the number of bidders and the bid amounts (as Massa Construction bid nearly $1 million less than the next closest bid), while others expressed general concerns about the bid process and the issue of bids running over budget.
Ward 4 councilor Ken Camera:
“The way (the bid process) works, there’s a lot of room for change orders and that is going to cost us an arm and a leg. We need to have as few moving parts as possible. And make the contractor responsible for delivering on budget.”
Camera also spoke about the lack of transparency with the bid process:
“The problem I have with that: you’re telling the public that we’re going to build a project and fund it in pieces, which makes it harder for the public to oversee…one more thing: I have never seen a project (like this one) where the numbers are laid out so clearly for the public to see.”
Councilor-at-large Mark Gramling:
“I don’t like the way the bid process seems to be and the way it was brought out. I don’t feel good. I don’t like it.”
Ward 3 councilor Steve Valentino:
“There is much confusion once you look at the bidding features.
Councilor-At-Large Gordon Eddington did not speak during the entire discussion of the city hall renovations project on June 13, in stark contrast to the previous week’s meeting where he spent almost six minutes out of a twenty-four minute council discussion aggressively pressing council to first move ahead with the project, and then figure out how to cover the project’s additional cost at a later time.
However, after the June 13 meeting during which he did not say a single word, Eddington felt comfortable offering some comments to Steve Buchiere of the Finger Lakes Times:
“Councilor Gordy Eddington, who pushed for the renovations at Council’s June 6 meeting, said after the Wednesday work session that he was on board with scaling back the project. Eddington had suggested at the meeting last week that bids were about $46,000 over but explained after the work session Wednesday evening that he did not have complete information on some of the additional costs associated with the project.”
And Mayor Ron Alcock joined Eddington in saying that he hadn’t previously been aware of the financial details around the project.
“This project as I recall, we were told this project would be 1.5 million and that’s what we approved…we never saw the numbers until tonight.”
Only one week prior, the Mayor had insisted on moving the project forward (and figuring out how to pay for it later).
During the earlier June 6th meeting, Ward 2 Councilor Paul D’Amico had also claimed that he did not have all the necessary information on the project:
“I would like to know more, I’m asked to vote on budgets, but I have to understand, I ask a lot of questions and I forget where my emails are sometimes. But there’s a lot of information that our city staff has that we need to have to make the appropriate decisions.”
…I’m not saying I feel incompetent, but I don’t feel competent to talk as informed as I think I need to be, to be making million dollar decisions, multi-million dollar decisions.”
And just like Alcock, D’Amico also had given his full support for moving ahead with the project during the June 6 meeting.
During both the June 6 and June 13 meetings, nearly every councilor spoke in favor of receiving more information on the city hall renovations project.
However, three councilors claimed they hadn’t been provided the necessary information by staff to make an informed decision on the project.
Gordy Eddington, Ron Alcock and Paul D’Amico must have forgotten that the city comptroller gave a detailed explanation of the financial consequences of moving forward with the current city hall renovation plan during the June 6 council meeting.
Are the Renovations Required by the Americans with Disabilities Act?
When asked directly about city hall’s current accessibility for disabled people, Blowers stated that city hall is currently ADA compliant. Because of the advanced age of the building, the city is only required to provide full access to the first floor. Blowers stated that employees who cannot access the top floors would simply have their offices situated on the first floor. If disabled residents need to meet with city staff on the upper floors, city staff are currently required to come down to the first floor to meet with those residents.
At the June 6 council meeting, Mayor Ron Alcock firmly stated that the elevator was necessary to accommodate city employees with disabilities. One week later, this was confirmed to be untrue.
City staff has made the following recommendation to Council:
- Scale back and redesign the scope of the project to decrease the total cost
- Apply for $300,00 elevator grant through CDBG
- Put the new, redesigned project out for bid some time around December 2018
During the upcoming July 11 City Council meeting, council will vote on a resolution to move forward with the newly modified city hall renovation project.
It was encouraging to see that Council has agreed to modify the renovation plan, and the councilors who asked for more clarity and transparency in the city’s bid process should be acknowledged for speaking up.
Still, it has yet to be seen whether these councilors follow through on their intent to improve the bid process. Once the modified project is approved, council and the public’s attention will move to other issues, and it’s possible that nothing will ultimately be done to address questions with the bid process.