In January Ascension’s Council Recreation Committee received the bad news; the low bid to expand the gym at Lamar Dixon Expo Center (LDEC) came in $840,000 overbudget ($3.3 million for the project budgeted at $2.5 million). On Monday the Council Finance Committee addressed the shortfall by a unanimous vote to increase the budget to accommodate that low bid; which will be reduced by $300,000 after “value engineering” the project. Since any budget appropriation can only be accomplished by ordinance, additional action is required by the Council.
While Finance includes all 11 Parish Council members, it has no authority to enact an ordinance which can only be done by six votes of the membership presiding as the governing authority, i.e. the Parish Council.
“Value engineering” will “remove some of the parts and pieces, bells and whistles,” according to Project Manager Dean Thomason. “Everything we’re touching, you’ll never see.
“What’s going to be removed,” inquired Councilman Corey Orgeron, referencing a conversation he had with colleagues Alvin “Coach” Thomas and Travis Turner (the Chair and Vice Chair of the Recreation Committee, respectively). “(Thomas and Turner) want the best site for AAU Basketball in the area.”
So much for the 2019 sales pitch that the facility was intended as “multi-use.”
Thomason cited two items never before implemented in any parish construction project; a certain insurance policy and underground pipes encased in concrete. According to Thomason the engineer/designer (Meyer Engineering) unilaterally decided to include them. Sounds about right.
Meyer Engineering believes (through “value engineering”) $300,000 can be eliminated from the budget. Project Manager Thomason assured Finance that the low-bidding contractor had agreed to do the job for the reduced price, somewhere between $2.9-3 million.
Good enough, it seemed, for each Finance/Council member, only one of whom bothered to inquire…
“So, where’s the extra $840,000 coming from?” wondered Councilman Chase Melancon aloud.
The question was roundly ignored and Melancon did not press the issue.
On March 21, 2019 the current council’s predecessor adopted an ordinance amending that year’s budget to undertake the project…
as part of a $2.9 million appropriation. The monies were to be “loaned” from the General Fund to the Recreation Fund, instead of issuing a bond, to pay for four items:
- $280,000 for Engineering Fees-Gym Project
- $20,000 for Professional Services-Gym Project
- $2,500,000 Contract Payment-Gym Project
- $100,000 Design-(2) Spray Parks
Repayment was supposed to be made in annual $300,000 installments from the Recreation Fund, back to the General Fund thereby avoiding interest obligations. How will Monday’s increase impact that plan? Nobody bothered to ask:
- How will repayment be structured when $840,000 (or $540,000) is added to the loan?
- Can the Recreation Fund afford the increased annual debt service over ten years?
- Will years be tacked on to the repayment schedule?