Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Shackelford Summarizes Sewer Debacle

"For the record, however, city residents should not feel at all hesitant, or guilty, about roundly criticizing this city’s leadership for the enormous cost overruns and construction delays that this unwieldy effort will always be remembered for. Had everything described above failed to turn out as well as it did, it’s no stretch to suggest that even considerate minds would have found themselves pondering the removal of our mayor and city aldermen.

"An old acquaintance passed along a story published by the Northwest Arkansas Times on March 27, 2001, reminding me that way back in 2000 city officials were telling the public that this massive infrastructure undertaking would cost taxpayers between $60 million and $90 million. By 2001 Interim Public Works Director Don Bunn was busy saying those estimates were far too rosy — and that the final figure would run closer to $110 million. “I can tell you we are extremely confident of the cost,” Bunn said at the time. …

"The original date of the new plant’s grand opening (September 2005) came and went like a train in the night. By September 2006, Fayetteville voters were headed back to the polls, ultimately approving a tax increase to foot the bill for tens of millions worth of cost overruns. At the time, Coody blamed consultants for the project’s increased costs and delays, and said that people involved with the project did not sufficiently communicate the issue to him.

"Critics would say that’s an excellent example of passing the buck and avoiding blame. Heck, even the sewer project’s most passionate supporters have to admit that those early estimates were so far off as to show themselves to be educated guesses — and poorly educated ones at that. At this late date citizens are just thankful that they don’t have to return to the polls a third time and bail city officials out of a jam by imposing yet another financial burden on themselves. …

"Embarrassments aside, the effort was probably worth it. Still, it would be nice if, in the future, Fayetteville leaders discover a way not to be so ridiculously off course in their projections. Next time, perhaps….

"I don’t know about you, but I reached my limit for public projects careening wildly out of control this time around."

--Scott Shackelford, "The Public's Waste," Northwest Arkansas Times

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