Of Moochers and Looters

As the senior center and preschool initiatives appear to be gaining momentum, we all know from experience that they will both end up costing way more than what is initially pitched. Capital projects, after all, are the holy grail of money grabs.

Obligatory Painful Reminders

  • The Blankenship parking lot went from $69K to $265K;
  • Dredging of an 8th rowing lane went from $250K to $548K;
  • A “splash pad” (that cost our neighbors $50K) and modified parking lot cost $1 million;
  • A $75K cinder block bathroom ended up costing nearly $300K;
  • A $350K set of metal bleachers ended up costing $700K and
  • A $40M High School that will cost over $126M by the time it is paid off

The final totals, however, will not likely account for the monies spent in the efforts leading up to a final decision. During those years, the city pays firms to perform endless surveys, assessments, cost analysis and design work. Most of this work falls under a label of “professional services” and can involve just about anything short of the actual construction work.

Sickening Side Note

Tennessee Law does not require municipalities to bid out work for professional services. In fact, it expressly prohibits “competitive soliciting.” This includes architectural and engineer firms as well as “…legal services, fiscal agent, financial advisor or advisory services, educational consultant services, and similar services by professional persons or groups of high ethical standards, [which] shall not be based upon competitive bids, but shall be awarded on the basis of recognized competence and integrity.”

This enables local governments to repeatedly funnel your money to the same hand-picked firms and often for duplicated efforts. From my re-post below, note that Studio 4, or Studio Four Designs, was paid in 2012 to determine if a new facility was needed (a third such assessment) and is now poised to be the lead architect of the project.

This is just one of many examples that I’ve seen over the years. I’m tempted to expound as I have in the past; but it won’t change their intentions or their minds, so I won’t. As the re-post demonstrates, actual needs and prioritization of such needs, are completely irrelevant. I suppose that there may be a silver lining in that we now appear to be moving towards renovation instead of brand new construction…..oh wait, that’s what we did with the High School.  Nevermind.

Competency. Integrity. Of high ethical standards. All oxymorons in politics. Nah, just morons.

Senior Center Update MARCH 26, 2012

I attended Thursday night’s meeting in which the Elder Citizens Advisory Board, Parks and Recreation Board and City Council heard the results of the UT survey as well as the Studio 4 assessment with regards to the possibility of building a new senior center.

As I discussed here and here, this is the third attempt since 1999 by the city to appease a small group of people at a significant cost to the taxpayer.  The previous attempts cost us $117,500. The bill for this go round so far is $15,000 (for yet another needs assessment) and since the architectural firm retained by the city has publicly stated that they fully expect to also be awarded the design contract, it’s not unreasonable to expect the total to push up over $250,000.

Studio 4 was retained to determine if there was a need for a new facility, how much space it would require and how much it will cost. Since they would be paid a minimum of $100,000 for the design contract, you can guess what their determination was.

Drum roll please……… OF COURSE WE NEED TO BUILD A NEW SENIOR CENTER! The price tag will be $2.9 million and, as Stan pointed out in the Observer recently, that $2.9 million will likely end up costing the taxpayers over $5 million before it is all said and done.

They determined that new is the only way to go and that the current facility is not large enough at 9,600 square feet. No, the new facility needs to be at least 12,000-15,000 square feet. If approved, design efforts would start early 2014 and construction would start by January  2015.

That was about all that Studio 4 brought to the table. As the discussion ensued, the Elder Citizens Advisory Board made it clear that their group was not willing to consider alternatives other than having their very own brand new building.  Council member Charlie Hensley expressed disappointment in the fact that no other alternatives were explored.

Hensley also asked how much money the city had set aside to date for this potential project and the answer from the city manager was “very little.”  Adding insult to injury, when council member Jane Miller asked about the 501c they had set up a few years back, the Elder Citizens Advisory Board explained that they had not actively pursued donations because of the campaign underway by their neighbors, the Emory Valley Center.  And even if they do solicit funds, they will NOT use those funds to help pay for building cots. No, those funds would only be used for furnishings.

Survey Says…..

The second half of the meeting was dedicated to discussing the phone survey conducted by UT.  No representative from UT was present, so many questions went unanswered.

Council did express concerns that the survey did not adequately represent the Oak Ridge population. In fact, with only 600 respondents, it represented less than 2% of our population, most of whom were over 50.

Here are a few items I extracted from the survey:

  • 10% of eligible seniors in Oak Ridge currently participate in activities at the senior center. (Note that the actual usage figures provided to me by staff last year showed that only 5% of eligible seniors use the existing facility.)
  • “…the younger demographic was underrepresented”
  • Major problems in Oak Ridge:
    • 51.3% shopping
    • 46.3% public transportation
    • 27.7% activities for teens
    • 14.8% activities for families
    • 14.5% Variety of restaurants
    • 9.7% activities for seniors
  • Half of survey respondents support a new senior center with the strongest opposition to building a new senior center are those who voted in the last election.  (Note that potential cost and funding sources were not part of the survey)
  • Location Preference
    • 32.6% Current Location
    • 28% Next to civic center
    • 8 % in civic center

The entire survey is supposed to be uploaded to the city website in the near future.

I will close with some of the same statements I’ve made in the past and will continue to make:

37% of the annual senior center program budget pays for non-paying, non-residents. The current senior center facility is used by less than 5% of Oak Ridge residents at least one time per year. Oak Ridge is drowning in debt and cannot afford luxuries like another new building, of any kind. There are alternatives that can and should be pursued. At the very least, the senior center can remain where it is currently located and be purchased by the city in less than 3 years for the cost of $1. If that is not feasible, then the civic center, which is rarely, if ever at full capacity, can provide the alternative space.

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