Trauger column: Not making 7th Street numbers public a reasoned decision
Editor’s note: The Post Independent is happy to reintroduce columnist Kathryn Trauger, who wrote an opinion column for us for a time before she was elected to Glenwood Springs City Council in 2015. Having since left Council due to the demands of a new job, we once again welcome Trauger’s “Perspective” on a host of local and regional issues. Her column will appear monthly on the fourth Wednesday.
With the Grand Avenue Bridge “official” dedication behind us, we bring to the relative close, another controversial chapter in the Glenwood Springs history books. But wait … is it really closed?
If you read Matthew Bennett’s story in the Post Independent June 11, you might wonder if this bridge project will ever be over. What’s more, you might wonder about the intent of our “City Fathers” (and Mother) to level with us.
Before going there, I must digress for a moment. This column is called Perspective for a reason. It is my opinion, through my filters and experience. It is my Perspective. I don’t expect everyone to agree, and I encourage civil discourse with the emphasis is on “civil” discourse. So, if you don’t agree with me — or if you do — let me know.
So, back to the bridge, and what’s under it and what’s next to it … and what about the cost to “finish” the area under the bridge and Seventh Street. The current controversy is not so much about the cost but rather about the issues of transparency, stewardship, accountability and value.
The question of the hour, according to the Post Independent straw poll, seems to be should the city release Seventh Street cost estimates. Really, the question is not about the estimate but about what the city has budgeted, based upon numerous designs and estimates, for this project.
Those in favor are arguing that city financials should be transparent. I agree they should be transparent, and I believe they are. If you look at the city budget document, located on the city’s website under the Open Gov tab, you will see an extraordinary level of detail. While it is not an easy document to read, staff and Council’s goal was to make a complex budget as transparent as possible.
The Seventh Street project is part of a group of potential Acquisition & Improvement (A&I) tax infrastructure projects, all of which could use bonding. City Council has discussed trying to complete Seventh Street without the use of the A&I bonding available. The goal of not using bonding was mainly to preserve as much potential bonding capacity for other much-needed infrastructure, including South Bridge, South Midland and 27th Street Bridge. This is a good thing.
The Seventh Street project has been a moving target. Releasing the specific amount budgeted, or estimated, in connection with the RFP would be unwise for the following reasons:
• There is still an unknown amount to potentially be credited from CDOT to the city to complete the work on Seventh Street.
• The estimates and the amount budgeted may not be the same — cause for further confusion.
• There have been revisions to the staging or phasing of the project, which have changed since the budget was approved.
But these are not the only reasons.
More importantly is the need to get the most value for every dollar the city spends. Being good stewards of city resources does not mean that the city should always choose the lowest bid for projects, but rather choose the bid that provides the highest value, meets the needs, and attains the goals of the city, the businesses and the citizens of Glenwood. The amount of the bid should be but one criteria for awarding a bid.
The city should also employ a bidding process that encourages bidders to use critical thinking, value engineering, innovation and creativity in the bid process. The RFP process should include enough information to make sure critical bases are covered and the goals and expectations of the project are clear. Then stand back and see what happens.
Keep in mind that the city has the ability to reject any and all bids. While this is never the desired outcome, if all bids are significantly higher than expected, it could provide valuable information about the accuracy of the estimates and the realism of the budget or scope of the project.
As a simple example, suppose I need to have my house repainted this year, and I have done some research and have a good idea what it may cost. I am not going to call up painters and say, “I have $5,000 to spend on repainting my house. What can you do for me, and what’s it going to cost?”
No, I am going to have them to look at the house, while I explain my absolute must haves and then throw in a few desires and see where the bids come in. Then, I will look at the bids to see if they met my basic evaluation criteria and make a decision on a painter that provides the best value. If I do go with a bid that is at or higher than my budget, it will be because of exceptional value.
It is true governments are different than a household or a business. Governments exist to provide critical services and infrastructure to citizens; to provide a significant value back in return for the taxes collected. The inference by some is that what City Council is doing is improper, and should not be done in government.
However, I have talked with several governmental agencies, from local to state level, and they agreed that, often, it is best to get the bid without releasing the budgeted or estimated amount in order to provide incentive to the bidder to come in with the best possible value for the citizens and to encourage innovation and creativity in accomplishing our goals.
The businesses in Glenwood, particularly those in the downtown, have suffered immensely through this construction project. It is everyone’s desire to see this project completed as quickly as possible and to construct a place that creates topophilia — to use Governor Hickenlooper’s word. Glenwood is special, with many unique needs. It is important that we use our funds as wisely as possible. The controversial decision that Council made on June 7 was the right decision.
Kathryn Trauger lives in and writes from her home town of Glenwood Springs where she grew up and has served the community in many capacities. Her column, Perspective, appears monthly in the Post Independent.