Transit facility could cost city $200K

Published 12:09 am Friday, June 22, 2012

NATCHEZ — The Natchez aldermen got a bit of unexpected and disappointing news Thursday morning when they learned the city needs to provide $200,000 to help fund the proposed regional transit facility.

City officials originally thought the facility, which will be located at the former location of the A-B Motor Company on North Shields Lane, would be fully funded by a grant that required no matching funds from the city.

The facility is being funded by a federal stimulus package through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Natchez Transit System has worked with the Mississippi Department of Transportation and Federal Transit Administration, which is administering the funding, on getting approval for the project.

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Natchez Transit System Executive Director Sabrena Bartley and City Engineer David Gardner informed the board that the construction bids for the project had presented an unforeseen problem.

The four construction bids the aldermen received at their June 12 meeting were all more than the project’s budget, approximately $1 million more than the $2.4 million construction budget for the project.

Gardner said it was discovered that the budget, which was based on estimates made by the project’s design engineers at ABMB Engineers in Baton Rouge, did not factor in the Buy American provision of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The provision requires all materials used in the construction of the facility to be made in the United States. Gardner said the provision increases the cost of the construction materials because the materials are not readily available in the area and have long lag times on delivery.

The cost estimates, Gardner said, also did not factor in the rise in material costs since the original budget was completed approximately three years ago.

Revised cost estimates, Gardner said, closely match the lowest construction bid, which was made by Paul Jackson Construction for $3.4 million.

Since the project’s budget did not have the $1 million needed for the construction cost, Gardner said, the Mississippi Department of Transportation identified approximately $900,000 from its Formula Grants For Other than Urbanized Areas program, or Section 5311. The additional funds, however, would require a 20-percent match from the city, approximately $200,000.

Gardner said he had identified $250,000 in the city’s capital improvements fund that could be used for the city’s match. The money, he said, was originally allocated as match funds for a grant to repair the former railroad depot that contains the Cock of the Walk and the Old South Trading Post and the old tollbooth colonnades at the Natchez Visitor Reception Center.

That grant, however, was denied. Gardner said the city is reapplying for the grant later this year, and he said he believes ad valorem taxes and other funds will replenish the $200,000 needed for the transit facility.

But some of the aldermen were not happy about the unforeseen cost.

Ward 3 Alderman Bob Pollard, Ward 5 Alderman Mark Fortenbery and Ward 6 Alderman Dan Dillard all expressed concerns about the city paying $200,000 on a project they originally thought was not going to cost the city anything.

Pollard said he did not want to see the money already allocated for the railroad depot and colonnades used for the transit facility.

“That’s city-owned property on the bluff that needs to be upgraded desperately,” he said.

Dillard said his issue was not with the quality of the transit facility project, which he said was a good project for which the city was grateful. Instead, Dillard said he did not understand how the cost of the facility went from approximately $2.4 million to $3.4 million.

“That’s not acceptable design development,” Dillard said.

Dillard also expressed concern that future projects “free” to the city could end up costing the city money as the transit facility had done now.

Gardner and Bartley both expressed that they acted in good faith when presenting the no-match project to the city.

Gardner said the city was at the mercy of the engineer who made the cost estimates and designed the project and to the bidders.

“I understand (the aldermen’s) frustration, and it’s a valid frustration,” Gardner said after the meeting. “Unfortunately, it was out of our control.”

Gardner said Paul Jackson Construction has agreed to shave 10 percent off the original bid, and Bartley said any work done in-kind by the city would be paid against the $200,000 match.

Gardner said he believes the project’s construction engineering and inspection firm, Volkert & Associates, which has partnered with Jordan Kaiser & Sessions, can negotiate comparable substitutes for project materials with the contractor that will save money.

“We may end up not even needing all the $200,000,” he said. “I don’t think we will (need it all).”

The board voted 5-1 to approve the allocation of $200,000 for the facility. Pollard voted against the motion, which was made by Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Acreneaux-Mathis.

The board’s approval is contingent upon whether the MDOT commissioners finalize approval of the Section 5311 funds for the project at its meeting next week and also MDOT concurrence with the bids.

In other news from the meeting:

•The aldermen met in executive session for approximately 15 minutes to discuss litigation regarding Worley-Brown LLC.

•Deanne Tanksley, CPA for the Gillon Group, presented the aldermen with a draft of the city’s financial audit, which she said was completed Wednesday.

Tanksley said the audit will be filed by the June 30 deadline, and she said she wanted the aldermen to have time to review the audit before it was submitted.

The board voted to recess the meeting until 4:30 p.m. July 28. The aldermen will review the audit and discuss pending litigation at the recessed meeting.

Watch the video of the meeting by clicking here.