Tuesday, June 5

Those Darned Rose Colored Glasses

Remember the survey last Summer on the pools? You know, the one in our water bill where about a solid majority of the people in Great Falls told our City Commission that neighborhood pools were worth saving. Well, whoever that was adding together the figures was certainly pulling something out of somewhere.

If you remember those surveys, our options were to spend nothing (and close down the neighborhood pools) or to spend $2.2 Million in repairs to the Jaycee, the Water Tower and the Mitchell.

Well, $2.2 Million seems to be not quite accurate. Now that we have committed to spend the money, the lowest bid is coming in at something like $2.5 Million. That’s about 14% over the estimate.

This is not the first error in estimation that the City has made in our very recent history. Not by a long shot.

If we move the decimal place over a digit or two to the right, we can recall the city’s estimates for the cost of the coal plant. You remember current cost estimate for the plant we were originally told would cost $515 Million plant is now hovering somewhere around $678 Million.

Moving back in time a few years, we can recall similar unrealistic cost estimates for the golf courses and other public works projects. Moving away from costs, there were a number of similar unrealistic revenue expectations for city ventures, most notably the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Party and the White Water Elephant.

Now, I am not alleging anything inappropriate here. I think that city planners did a study and really thought that the repairs to those pools would come in at the lower number. However, whoever was doing the math and studying the work involved made some major errors. Fourteen percent is a pretty huge variance.

Now, I am pretty sure that Great Falls taxpayers would have supported $2.5 Million to revitalize our neighborhood pools. However, we never got the chance to make a statement either way since the numbers on which most of us based our vote had only a tenuous relationship with reality.

Which leads me to the point of this particular post. Over at ECB, Geeguy has been doing a great job telling truth to power over the seeming inability of city estimators to plan for worst cast scenarios. Our recent news just highlights the point. This is a very important obligation, because these estimators are playing with our money.

I grant you that estimating public works projects is something throwing a dart at a moving target. However, it ain’t rocket science either. At the very least, the city could have put out some informational/non-binding requests for proposals; the responses to those RFPs would have given the city some important information as to the actual costs involved.


Allan said...

The Missus told me about a recent construction bid (obviously, I can't give details) in which the lowest bid was twice the government estimate. The government estimators had figured the job would take about half the time it really would, and didn't take overtime pay into account.

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

People have to swim. Augustus would want it that way.