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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Washington County Projects Exceeding Approved Budget: Costing Millions a Year

Over the years we've covered over a dozen projects that have far exceeded the contracted amount. Costing tax payers millions a year to pay for what appears to be rubber stamped approval for the contract raises and changes. This is a running article adding discovered projects over budget to the list.

We covered this hard in the seven months leading up to the County's eventual response which was a "Workshop" on March 17th, 2014 to deal with the problem. It was reported in the March article:

Cost Overrun Workshop Reveals Cure is Worse than the Disease

In addition to forgetting the majority of problem projects... solutions for the under reported problem were equally disappointing. Ideas such as limiting public involvement and changing the amount needed for a contract change vote from $50k to $100k.

Apparently the problem persists as Washington County projects continue to run hundreds of thousands, if not millions above the contracted amount. This running article will keep you updated on what appears to be reckless approval of any raise request. Evidenced by no record of a single County commissioner vote against the changes. Yes some projects have work order changes for things like wider sidewalks than described in the contract; however in habit, these are equally disturbing. If projects are getting changed and upgraded as they go than design and planning costs escalate far greater than if they were in the original design. Showing evidence of a poorly planned project advertised as affordable and responsible. The practice has contributed to the:

County Debt Tripled in the Last Seven Years, the Board Undeterred: Budget Passes

A great example of this mid project cost hiking is the story we did on the

County Parking Lot Repave Goes $1.1 Million Over Budget in May

Also costing tax payers in May was: 

County Mistake Leads to $165,000 Settlement Paid by Forest Lake

For June is the County Road 19-20-22 project in Cottage Grove:
The nearly million dollar raise was approved by a vote of three to zero. Commissioner Weik, Bearth, and Miron voting yes. Commissioner Kriesel and Bigham were not present.

Also for June 2015, the County Road 10 project in Lake Elmo, $113,630 over budget for "additional milling". Fair to argue the contractor who perhaps underbid to win the job should absorb this 14% project cost increase... not the tax payers who were told the project contract was secured on a low bid process for the best value. Again, what's the point of the Contract if the County doesn't hold contractors to the price? (Approved by a vote of 5 to 0)

Tis the season, here's another June approval. This one for the CSAH 9 and County Road 9 project. The final cost over run for the project was approved on June 9th for a total of $161,952 over budget. (Approved by a vote of 5 to 0)

On June 23rd (passed 4-1, kriesel voted no... will follow up):
The rush to approve the $26 million dollar Resource Recovery facility buyout out was massively underestimated... we heard mention of the option for years and even wrote about it in a February 2014 article. In November 2014 we were the only ones to report that the Counties spent $850,000 tax dollars  on lawyers to fast track the process smooth as possible. The Cost has now doubled to $1.5 million for these consultants. Read the full article series starting with

On July 7th:
 Third time this "not to exceed" contract has "exceeded" it's original contract amount to ensure County back up systems have uninterrupted power for a supposedly flat labor rate. However, they need an additional $9,103 for "completing the additional corrective maintenance work"... What's the point of a contract?

August 11th, passed 5-0:
The original design contract with SEH for the (CSAH) 17/Old Lake Elmo Village project was $321,000, now it's $369,000 for a $48,000 raise. What's the point of a contract?

September 22nd:
The engineering contractor, SRF Consulting Group, for the County road 15 project in Lake Elmo received a $112,850 raise for no additional work. Work the County Engineer could have done. A 37% bonus.

October 6th:
Forest Lake Contracting for the County State Aid (CSAH) 17/Old Trunk Highway (TH) 5 signal project in Lake Elmo. 

Since the original contract in April they've had $42K in added costs for original contract items such as:
-correcting slopes (known cost)
-stripe work (known cost, not tax payers fault it had to happen over two days) 
-signal pole (if you quote "X" amount for signal pole, it's not the tax payers all the assumed pole locations would work... moving one two feet should be on the contractor)
-grade match walkways (again, not tax payers fault)

Contact your county commissioners to demand better oversight: 651-430-6211 651-738-2425 651-430-6213 651-430-6215 651-430-6214