Thursday, July 15, 2010

State Funding Mess Prompts Closer Look at City of Bishop (Ca.) Projects (Inyo Register July 13, 2010) By Mike Bodine

State funding mess prompts closer look at city projects
Tuesday, 13 July 2010

By Mike Bodine
Register Staff

The Bishop City Council is asking Public Works to pull in the reins and slow down on the incredible amount of projects being pursued in the city.

One of the agenda items at the council's retreat on July 6 was the prioritization of Public Works projects. The council worried about getting stretched too far out, financially, with projects that are primarily funded through a reimbursement process by the state. The state has yet to pass a budget and is facing a $20 billion deficit.

Water and sewer projects that usually accompany road projects, because it is less expensive to replace underground infrastructure with the asphalt removed, are paid for through city Water and Sewer fees. Part of these fees go to an emergency fund that pays for things like the sewer repair on Hanby Street. The council said it wanted to make sure that emergency fund does not diminish too much, in case of another emergency.

Public Works has explained that with the sour economy, bids for jobs are at an unprecedented low – a buyers market. Public Works Director Dave Grah said bids are as much as one-third lower than normal.

Councilmembers said they trust Grah and all praised him and his department for the vast amount of repair and maintenance to the infrastructure of the city, improvements that the council credited to Grah. The retreat was not intended to give direction to department heads but for discussion.

"We rely on his (Grah's) judgement," Councilmember Bruce Dishion said. "We just needed more details about what is going on."

At the retreat, the council asked Grah to clarify why and how certain projects are prioritized the way they are. Grah explained with spread sheets and data how uncontrollable factors like weather affect projects, be it pouring concrete or pavement. He also explained that funding from the state is very unpredictable, not only with which projects will be funded, but when.

City Administrator Pick Pucci said that, unfortunately, the state also has the "ultimate jurisdiction" to pull money from a project at any time.
Councilmember Dave Stottlemyre said the council expressed to Grah its concerns about the difficult economic times, and that the council felt there were too many projects moving forward at once.

"Our main emphasis," Stottlemyre said, "was to identify smaller projects, and slow down a bit, exercising the fiscal responsibility of the council." Stottlemyre added the council did not want to "get caught too far out" with projects when the state plainly cannot be trusted to reimburse the city.

Councilmember Laura Smith reiterated Stottlemyre's sentiments in that even though bids for jobs are low, it's best not to go ahead with too many projects at once.
Councilmember Susan Cullen said that Public Works is being asked to focus on a single major construction project per year.

The next project the state has agreed to fund will be Project A that includes repaving, water and sewer maintenance on North Third Street and Short Street.
The next project will be the Warren Street project that is at least five years out, Grah said. The Warren project would include burying overhead utilities.
The Warren Street project raised the concerns of the council when Grah said he wanted to transfer funding to Warren from the Sneden and Pine Street projects where $50,000 of preliminary studies has already been completed.

Grah explained that the studies can be used in the future when funding for that project comes along.

Grah added that in the future, as state funding fluctuates, the city may have several projects going on at once, but major construction will try and be limited to once a year.

Grah said the council will continue to be updated on projects during department head reports at council meetings.

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