No answers regarding high City project costs

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN
Managing Editor
As the City of Liberty Hill prepares to embark on a number of new capital projects, many questions remain regarding cost overruns on recent projects and funding capacity for future plans.

Two projects in particular — the Municipal Court Building renovation and Downtown Street and Utility project — have cost taxpayers an additional $423,475 above the bid award, but efforts by The Independent to get an explanation of the additional costs have been unsuccessful due to the City’s refusal to grant an interview to discuss the projects.

In July, at the request of Council member Tony DeYoung, City staff provided an update on CIP expenditures that showed the additional $131,352.

The presentation on CIP expenditures from 2018 to present showed $5.76 million in budgeted projects and expenditures of $5.1 million, despite the swim center project at City Park, the funds set aside for the Stubblefield project that was scrapped and the roundabout that was also scrapped accounting for just over $3 million of the planned budget and none of them being awarded for construction.

A request for information submitted on July 6 for invoices and change orders related to the Municipal Court Building was responded to by the City on July 16, showing a variety of expenses from adding a safe room and additional security equipment installation to the project, to a lighted metal sign to hang behind the council dais at a cost of $2,825, to 10 new conference chairs at $3,960 as well as what appears to be three conference tables at just over $2,300. The project also included rewiring of the building by Cable Com at $7,037.

Questions on who managed the project and authorized the additional expenditures have not been answered.

The Independent is waiting on a response from the City to a request sent Oct. 15 for details on expenditures related to the Downtown Street and Utility project. According to a change order approved at Monday’s Council meeting, the City saved $10,398 on the project by doing the parking lot striping downtown in-house, but the project has had $302,521 in additional costs added on since the bid was awarded.

The downtown project was awarded in lieu of the roundabout project first approved in early 2019 before the Council canceled the awarded bid to Smith Contracting Company for $1.372 million. The amount was to cover the roundabout for the intersection of CR279 and Loop 332 as well as the parking lot on the old washateria property.

The parking lot project was rolled into a larger downtown project to include additional work on the police station parking lot, some road and utility rehabilitation and the Van Alley parking, which was approved originally for $1.55 million. The project did not include intersection improvements, which have since been considered with an engineering estimate of $840,254. With the intersection work added in – with the change orders – that would bring the downtown project expenditures to an estimated total just under $2.7 million.

Future projects
Liberty Hill has six projects in various stages of approval, from the community center that was awarded for bid in early October at $858,000 and a shared use path that the City will pay $217,000 of, to the swim center, Loop 332 and CR 279 intersection, new Liberty Parke entrance, and Bailey Lane realignment, which are estimated in early planning stages to be as much as an additional $4.7 million that has yet to be awarded for construction.

At Monday’s council meeting, Finance Director Becky Wilkins explained the anticipated bond total to cover the community center and swim center project, saying it would likely be $2.5 million.
In July, the plan was to pay for the community center with what was said to be $710,319 in remaining CIP funds, but that money has since been spent on the Downtown Street and Utility projects.

The bonds being considered are for seven years, and Wilkins said previously a $1 million bond would cost the City between $125,000 and $220,000 annually over the life of the bond payments.

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