The Williams City Council received an update on the Highway 20 – Marguerite Street Extension Project during last Wednesday’s regular meeting, but it wasn’t exactly the update that two council members were looking for.
The update, prepared by City Finance Officer Rex Greenbaum, was meant to update the council on the actual project costs following the receipt of final expenditures.
“It’s my pleasure to give you the final update, as of now and all the expenditures we have in,” Greenbaum said. “We think there could be potential stragglers here and there, but as far as we know, this is complete.”
The report compared total project budget (the funding sources and amounts for planned expenditures) and the actual accounting of the project (the funding sources and amounts for realized expenditures).
The report came in response to a request by Councilmember Chuck Bergson, who asked during last month’s meeting that a full accounting of the project be brought back before the council and made available for public perusal. Bergson thanked Greenbaum for the report presented to the council last Wednesday but said that he wanted more detail and asked Greenbaum to bring back an account of the expenditures themselves.
“To note the point — for disclosure, I’m an engineer, and I have done this before — you don’t list the expenditures, for like the base rock, the utilities, the grading, construction management, inspections: I’m wondering if the actual construction expenses,” Bergson said. “Typically, that’s what these have; it shows all the revenues and all the expenses.”
“You don’t have to do that for me,” Mayor John Troughton said, eliciting a laugh from fellow council member Kent Boes.
The format of the project accounting notwithstanding, Greenbaum had good news for the council. Before Bergson’s request, he informed the council that the actual project costs were about $117,000 lower than originally budgeted. The city saw approximately $160,000 in contract savings from the city’s construction project with Knife River, offset by an additional $42,648 in expenditures for completing the engineering for the Source Inspection Quality Management Plan, Greenbaum said.
Greenbaum explained on Tuesday morning that the city also spent $30,000 on fixing the sidewalks, which was subtracted from the contract savings figure.
“Had we not had some of those extra expenditures, including that $30,000, we would have been looking at around $200,000 in savings there,” Greenbaum said. “Knife River, for all the work they did, they didn’t use all of their line item budgets.”
Under Budget? Not quite, by Mayor’s Accounting
While Troughton would later make the comment about not needing a detailed expense report, he did feel the need to comment on what he viewed as the true cost of the project.
“This doesn’t include the money we spent prior to construction, does it?” Mayor John Troughton asked.
Greenbaum told him it did not.
“We spent it on almost everything to get CalTrans to do their job… I think we had run up over about $450,000 over five or six years,” Troughton continued.
Kennedy interjected, saying that the accounting did include some pre-construction expenses, including some environmental-related costs. He added that it did not, however, include cost of the street design and flood plain re-mapping.
“There was quite a bit that was not covered in this,” Kennedy said.
“At one time, before there was a back-fill with some of this money coming back in, we were at almost $450,000 or $460,000, that this city over three, four, five or six years had put in trying to get this project of the ground,” Troughton said. “So, this project, if it’s listed at $5.6 million, it’s probably more like $6 million because of the money we put in over the years, piecemeal, for this and that…”
Troughton listed two more expenses from his memory, which he said amounted to an additional $200,000.
“At this point, I figure it’s probably at $6.2 million, just going by my memory on those numbers,” he said.
“We spent around $500,000 before a shovel ever hit the ground,” Troughton explained on Tuesday. “And we didn’t get noticed for that.”
On Tuesday morning, Greenbaum agreed that the total cost of the project, if funds spent during the design phase were to be included, would be somewhere in the ballpark of Troughton’s $6.2 million figure.
“We put a lot more money into the project prior to all the costs (listed), for the design phase,” Greenbaum said. “For the construction or the project phase, we came out around $117,000 under budget.”
Faced with furloughs, City Moved $400,000 from property sale moved to general fund
At one point during last week’s meeting, Bergson pointed to the figure for use of sale of land proceeds and asked how much Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores paid for the 11-acre property.
“On the revenues, it says a sale of properties. Wasn’t it $2 million?” Bergson asked.
The sale of land proceeds budgeted was for $1.55 million, and the actual accounting of the sale of land proceeds used were $1.44 million.
“With that $1.44 million, the city council decided to take $500,000 from the sale and those proceeds and to pay it back for some of the expenditures it had before,” Kennedy offered.
“It also paid for a couple of other things too,” Bergson said.
“Yes, it did,” Kennedy said.
Asked to clarify his comment on Tuesday, Bergson obliged.
“That’s going to take some explanation. It’s sensitive, but that’s all public money. The basic explanation is we sold that property to Love’s for $2 million (last year). I was talking about furloughs for last year, as we had a $200,000 gap we needed to close in the budget,” Bergson said. “The Finance Commission plugged that gap with the excess dollars from that sale.”
Bergson said that he felt the money from the sale was capital money and that it shouldn’t have been put toward operational costs.
When asked, Troughton said that it was his idea.
“That was my recommendation, which was to take money from one place to one place, and fill a gap in another,” Troughton said. “That’s what happened, and we’ve seen no repercussions in the city with that decision. It’s solved a problem that now continues to be solved.”
Essentially, at the suggestion of Troughton, the council voted to move money from the sale of the 11-acre property on Marguerite Street into the general fund, in order to make up for the $200,000 in budgetary gaps. Those funds were replaced by money from the city’s sewer fund, which covered the installation of the sewer infrastructure on Marguerite Street.
When Bergson proposed furloughs last year, Troughton said that he didn’t believe it would solve the problem.
“My argument was that you don’t save the money you think you will save (with furloughs). You’re going to have to pay people time-and-a-half to make up for those lost hours. Consequently, you are reducing service to the city. The only way to save money is to lay someone off, and that wasn’t the proposal,” Troughton said. ““That was my reasoning behind it. The money from the sale, that was general fund money, and we replaced that with sewer money for sewer infrastructure on Marguerite Street… I found that was the best solution for us.”<