BOC gives go-ahead for park
Commission split on availability of funds

COVINGTON - County commissioners disagreed Tuesday night over whether to proceed with the proposed Denny Dobbs Park at Oak Hill, but those in favor of moving forward won out.

After bids came in as much as 20 percent over budget, the Board of Commissioners and Recreation Commission were left to find ways to reduce the cost.

At a work session Monday night, the Recreation Commission recommended hiring local planner Randy Vinson, who designed Turner Lake Park, as project manager to try to save money without compromising the quality of the park, Recreation Commission Director Tommy Hailey said.

"We were grasping, trying to find any way to make it work," he said, noting that with the reductions required to get the project within budget, the park would have been limited to greenspace, a parking lot, basketball courts and a pavilion.

Other options on the table Monday night were:

· To revisit project costs and alternatives with the lowest bidders and request an updated response, delaying the project by one month;

· To throw out Request for Proposals and restart the process immediately, causing a three-month delay;

· Throw out the RFPs and restart in a year;

· Or to have a project or construction manager in-house or by agreement.

At Tuesday night's Board of Commissioners' meeting, Chairman Kathy Morgan recommended canceling the current RFP and preparing a new one to contract with an in-house project manager.

Morgan said a committee consisting of herself, the county attorney, one commissioner, Hailey and one representative from the Recreation Commission would review responses and make a recommendation for a project manager.

Once the Recreation Commission has approved the project manager and scope of work, the project would come before the BOC for approval.

Under a project manager's supervision and coordination, each aspect of the project - from grading to paving to landscaping - would be bid out to get the lowest cost possible.

Morgan said the county public works department could be utilized for grading and other work as well.

But District 1 Commissioner Mort Ewing and District 5 Commissioner Tim Fleming said the only prudent thing to do is delay the project.

"From my perspective, the only reason we're discussing these options is because we're trying to build a park and we don't have the money to build it," Ewing said.

The 53-acre park planned for Richards Chapel Road at Ga. Highway 212 is set to be built in three phases for a total of $3.3 million, with the first phase initially estimated to cost up to $1.8 million. It will be funded through impact fees.

Ewing said the current total of impact fees available for parks and recreation is $1.48 million.

"You can't successfully spend money that you don't have, you cannot borrow yourself rich and you must learn to live within your means. That's where we are today. We're trying to live outside our means," he said.

Ewing said it's not responsible to commit to using public works, a department that has had to make budget cuts this year, when next year's budget is not known. Also, public works has a full schedule with road work, he said.

Fleming agreed, adding that maintenance and operation for the park is estimated to top $31,000 per year, minus an estimated $8,000 in rental fee revenues, which would put it at more than $23,000.

Officials recently cut the current fiscal year budget by $5 million and are anticipating deeper cuts next fiscal year.

"It is irresponsible for this board to move forward not knowing what the budget looks like next year," he said.

District 2 Commissioner Earnest Simmons said Denny Dobbs Park would not be the first recreation project built with the help of public works. He said if the project is delayed, it might not be built at all. The project was initiated in the 2000 SPLOST but was delayed due to a shortfall in revenues.

"I don't know how you're going to have the fortitude to go out and explain to thousands of people who are going to use this park every week that this was held up because of red tape," Simmons said.

District 3 Commissioner Nancy Schulz recommended setting a project budget of $1.38 million with a contingency of $100,000 for additional costs, putting the total budget at $1.48 million. She also recommended the project not begin until July 1, when the new fiscal year starts, so the budget will already be prepared. Another stipulation she suggested was a six-month timeline to finish construction, with a 30-day grace period.

The motion to follow the chairman's recommendation with Schulz's conditions was approved 3 to 2.

The county has utilized a project manager before for projects like the downtown Administration Building. Project managers can save money upfront because mark-up fees charged by contractors for guaranteeing the work of subcontractors are eliminated, Morgan said.

A project manager can also make adjustments to the site plan once work starts that will save money as well, she said.

Also, if the project is bid through the county, no sales tax would be paid, whereas a contractor would pay sales tax that would then be passed on to the county.

Morgan estimated that the county could save between $300,000 and $400,000 by hiring a project manager while not diminishing the quality of the park.

A project manager would cost between $40,000 and $60,000, according to a document given to commissioners at the work session. Morgan said this is not an additional cost because a general contractor typically includes a salary for a project manager in his budget as well.

Any in-kind work from public works will also be bid out to determine if it can be obtained locally at a better price.

Morgan said the county engineer is working on an estimate to determine the cost of public works' contributions, including material, time, labor and figuring in the value of time away from other projects. Future impact fees would repay public works for any associated costs.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.