A bad deal for residents: Customs scheduled for 3/17 BCC consideration

Civic activist and renowned local attorney Virginia Sherlock details the upcoming March 17th request for the Board of County Commissioners to move forward with the Witham Field Customs facility, despite the fact that the lowest bid came in nearly $200,000 over the highest projected cost for construction:

County Commissioners previously warned that approval for construction would not be given if the bids came in higher than projected.

Staff is nonetheless recommending that Commissioners simply change the adopted Capital Improvements Plan to cover the increased cost (and throw in additional funding, of course). 

The same recommendation will no doubt accompany the inevitable change orders that will be submitted after construction commences, increasing the cost even more, if the project is given the go-ahead.  Once the project breaks ground, Commissioners will find it difficult to deny change orders that will almost certainly be required to finish construction.

There is no information in the draft agenda packet regarding the five bids that were received, except for the name of each bidder and the amount of the bid — ranging from $1,404,360 to $1,760,896.  It is not clear, for instance, whether the low bidder is best suited for the job or whether the bid might be given to a higher bidder due to specialized experience, reputation, local preference rules, or other factors.  Staff recommends awarding the bid to the low bidder without providing any background to confirm that the low bidder is the best choice.

The BOCC previously authorized construction costs not to exceed $1,213,623, which makes even the lowest bid more than 15% higher than the approved projection (and the highest bid more than 45% higher than anticipated).

Staff says the Florida Department of Transportation has agreed to provide an additional $200,000 in grant funds, with a $50,000 match required from the County to provide “contingency funds” to move forward with construction. (The draft agenda materials are somewhat confusing in that the “total cost” for the project is identified as $1.375 million in the Supplemental Joint Participation Agreement with FDOT, which is less than the lowest bid for construction of the facility.  Is the County bound by the total cost identified in the Agreement?)

Staff recommends that the Commission revise its CIP sheet to approve the increased cost, accept the increased grant funding from FDOT, sign the supplemental agreement to increase the FDOT grant and the County’s required match and transfer $350,000 from Airport Reserves (if the Airport has a hefty reserve fund, why hasn’t it repaid the balance owed to taxpayers from the “loan” that was made to the Airport from the general fund years ago?).

It is difficult to calculate the number of times this project has been presented with entirely new cost projections, promises and assurances that ALWAYS prove to be inadequate.  The only thing that seems certain is that this pattern will continue long after March 17 if the Commission approves this boondoggle.

We can only hope that the Commission will finally acknowledge that the Customs facility is a bad deal for Martin County residents. 

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