Friday, July 28, 2017

Boondoggle 2.0

Transit Contract Causes 2nd Overrun in a Month; City Dips into Rainy-Day Fund

By Roger McCredie

Managing Editor

“Time flies when you’re having funds.” – Cecil Bothwell to Asheville Unreported, June 27, 2017

At its July 25 meeting, Asheville City Council voted unanimously to dip into the city’s “rainy day” fund to cover a $441,000 overage to the $850,000 transit allocation it had just approved, as part of the new city budget, on June 13.

The budget overrun is being caused by overlapping monthly payments that will occur as the city phases out its existing contract with Transportation Services of America, its present bus service provider, and phases in a new agreement with McDonald Transportation Associates.

The funding request is the second financial “oopsies moment” council has experienced within a month. The first was the revelation, at the June 27 meeting, that bids for work on the River Arts District Transportation Improvement Project (RADTIP) had come in at $26 million over budget. That piece of news resulted in the scrapping (the city says “delay”) of most of the RADTIP game plan and is now being referred to as “the RADTIP crash.”

But whereas the RADTIP miscalculation, huge as it was, involved only future numbers on a spreadsheet and the cutting back of huge portions of the RADTIP plans, the additional transit funding is cold cash that must be plugged into a very real budget hole to pay for very real services.

And to do that, council has now voted to dip into the account officially designated as the general fund unassigned balance. That’s the city’s prudent reserve, a.k.a “the rainy-day fund.”

Law requires the city to keep and maintain a percentage of its annual budget as a hedge against emergencies. In Asheville’s case the state-mandated amount would be 8% of total budget, but the city’s own ordinance sets the bar higher, at 15%. That amounts to $18 million at present.

A memo to council from the Assistant City Manager Cathy Ball, dated the day of the meeting, notes that the $441,000 appropriation would bring the reserve figure down to 14.6%, “slightly below the policy target.”

Nevertheless, observers say, “slightly below” is still below and indicates that perhaps, the City has exhausted its other funding capabilities.

But what about the budget excess?

This year’s budget projected a $1,181,000 overage, meaning the City, after accounting for all of its expenses and capital improvement project cash needs this year, would have an EXCESS of approximately $1.1 million. This money could have been put INTO the rainy day fund but instead was immediately allocated in each budget worksession. In other words, the City could have saved these funds and added to their “savings” account but went ahead and spent it. What did they allocate it for? See below
Excess budget gone. Staff answers
Déjà Vu All Over Again
Once again, as on June 27, it fell to Assistant City Manager, Cathy Ball to bear the message and take the heat, even though her boss, City Manager Gary Jackson, who was absent last time around, was sitting in his accustomed seat on the council dais.

Standing at the same lectern where she delivered the news about the $26 million, Ball delivered a power point presentation that outlined the city’s decision to hire McDonald, highlighting the additional and better services the city would be getting through a turnkey plan as opposed to the current fee-based arrangement. She related the turnkey approach was approved by the city’s finance committee last September and mentioned the constraints the city had to work under to insure receipt of Federal Transportation Authority funds.

Ball then handed off to city transit projects coordinator Elias Mathes, who repeated that adhering to FTA regulations “wouldn’t allow any further amendments [to the contract] that would reduce costs.”

Next up was the city’s chief financial officer, Barbara Whitehorn, who said the $850,000 budget figure approved on June 13 was just “an estimate based on where we thought we might land. We knew that wouldn’t be exact … once the [transit] contract was decided we went back and looked at the whole budget.”

“So,” said Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler, “It’s July 25. We approved the budget on June 13. Why the big miss? Did we not have any sense of what these numbers were going to come in at?”

(It was almost an instant replay of a June 27 exchange in which Wisler asked Ball, “Why didn’t the staff let the council and the public know about the size of the overrun?” and Ball replied, “That’s a fair question.”)

“We didn’t [know] really,” Whitehorn replied. “Probably Cathy can speak to that a little better than I can.”

So Ball returned to the podium.

It’s the FTA’s Fault.

“Until June 30th we did not know the answer to that [what the size of the overage would be],” Ball told Wisler. “We received best and final offers on June 12 and had to go to committee at that point.”

Wisler: “So knowing that we [already] had a budget in place the committee still was just okay with a $440K overrun?”

Ball: “We were not allowed by FTA to make that a consideration.” She returned to her seat.

But then, from normally quiet councilman Brian Haynes: “I would just like to know why we didn’t see this contract before today.”

Ball trudged back to the lectern.

“We typically would not bring a specific contract to council,” she said. “We generally just present you with a resolution asking the city manager to execute it.” Ball said this case was different because it happened that “We did have a contract [to satisfy FTA] already prepared, so you got to see that.

“So it’s not that we weren’t trying to be transparent,” she said.

Let’s Play Hide-the-Motion

To followers of council procedure, Haynes’ question begged another.

Up until the morning of the council meeting the motion to allocate the $441,000 to pay for the transit overage had been tucked away deep inside the meeting’s consent agenda, a list of routine business items, submitted by the city manager, that are usually dealt with en masse by a single approval vote.

But that item was missing from the agenda that was circulated just before the meeting. Instead, Mayor Esther Manheimer noted that the funding motion had been broken out separately and would be discussed in open session, complete with an opportunity for public discussion.

What prompted council to pluck that piece of business out of the city manager’s laundry list and present it by itself is not known. Asheville Unreported had discovered the previously buried motion and reported on it the day before the council meeting:

Not with a Bang; Not Even with a Whimper

Whatever the case, council member Julie Mayfield moved to approve the budget amendment and was promptly seconded by councilor Cecil Bothwell. The mayor then opened the floor to public discussion.

There was none.

Council then voted unanimously to approve the measure. “I hope this is going to get us to a better place,” said Mayfield.

The question was dealt with in just under 25 minutes.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Mayor’s Race That’s Now a Mayor’s Race

And Other Implications of the 2017 Campaign Season

An Analysis

By Roger McCredie

Managing Editor

On February 21, incumbent Asheville mayor Esther Manheimer announced plans to run for a second term this November. And for a while there seemed to be a real possibility that she would walk right into it.

Manheimer Steamroller

She simply had no opponents. Candidate-wise, the local Republican Party was missing in action. No unaffiliated or third-party candidates came forward. Within the Democratic Party establishment, Manheimer was up to her signature slimline spectacles in endorsements and connections. And she was clad in the armor of four years as mayor and four previous years as a city councilor, including two as vice mayor.

Manheimer is considered both smart and ambitious (She does, after all, work as a land use/foreclosure lawyer for the prestigious Van Winkle law firm and she was just re-elected chair of the North Carolina Metropolitan Mayors Coalition.) She’s been credited with saving Asheville’s water system from a state takeover, staving off (so far) state-mandated voting districts, and selling city taxpayers on $74 million worth of general obligation bonds. To many she’s the poster child of Asheville yuppie progressivism.

Some Say the Bloom is off the Rose

Shortly after she was elected mayor in 2013, Manheimer was depicted as a ship’s figurehead in a local cartoon. That’s how she has been described by both further-left members of her own party, who consider her a PINO (Progressive in Name Only), and by city government critics who say she serves as rubber-stamp-in-chief for city manager Gary Jackson.

And her copybook has some blots: Maheimer acquiesced in both the city’s seizure of Pack Place and the Art Museum’s attempt to sell naming rights to parts of Pack Square. Both the ongoing bond lawsuit and the $26 million RADTIP overrun boondoggle have taken place on her watch and she just voted to tap into the city’s “rainy day fund” to the tune of $441,000 for a new transit contract and was a staunch supporter of rezoning the River Arts District with form based code - something many property owners personally opposed in the July 25th City Council meeting. A few weeks ago she may have been poised to coast into a second term without having to defend her record, but that’s no longer the case.

Suddenly there are three other candidates in the race for mayor. That forces an October 10 primary to eliminate two of the four. Of those at least one candidate appears fully capable of going the distance (see below). The mayor now has a fight on her hands.

First There Was One

Jonathan Wainscott announced his intention to run against Manheimer in early June, causing a fair amount of eye-rolling and cries of “Siddown!” from the local political establishment.

Wainscott ran for city council in 2013 as a sort of anti-New Belgium populist and became a neighborhood spokesperson for those adversely affected by the brewery’s construction. He proved to be an eloquent and highly informed candidate but many felt he undermined his own campaign through a combination of intemperate utterances and personal problems.

He lay low from then until a few months ago, pursuing jobs as a woodworker and freelance artist, but has now eased back into circulation, mostly through social media. His Facebook-issued campaign announcement read:
“I believe that as a largely figurehead position, I better represent the unique spirit of unique uniqueness here, in Asheville. I like Esther Mannheimer for her dry wit and excellent haircuts, but her expertise as a lawyer is, well, unnecessary. There are plenty of lawyers in government already … They are over represented. I think an artist as Mayor is a better choice.”
He also said he advocates “Revoking the room occupancy tax and turning down the heat on the tourism blast furnace … adopting “Stairway To Heaven” as the official song of Asheville … firing Gary Jackson and others in city staff, and getting out of the Art Museum racket.”

Following his announcement Wainscott appeared at a city council meeting, clean-cut and blue-blazered, to deliver a dead-serious and highly articulate commentary on the city’s $26 million RADTIP shortfall. The consensus, though, is that he’s a talented gadfly but lacks the experience and the gravitas to be a mayor. For now, anyway.

The Passionate Spoiler

Another mayoral hopeful is Martin Ramsey, who ran for mayor in 2013, finishing a distant third in the primary behind Manheimer and former city risk manager John Miall. It was, in fact, Ramsey’s last minute filing in 2013 that forced a primary, just as it did this year.
“I, for one, have had quite enough of functionaries, lawyers, and corporate technocrats dictating policy and debate at every level of our government,” Ramsey said then. “Given the circumstances surrounding our city in dealing with a hostile General Assembly, the rewriting of our local election system, corporate welfare, police misconduct, expensive housing, and an over investment in an ecologically and economically unsustainable tourist economy, I could not allow this race to proceed without a meaningful debate on these issues.”
This year he’s back with the same message. “Our city deserves a frank discussion of the very real issues facing us and not a victory lap … I’m not afraid to fight and lose, but I’ll fight instead of giving up beforehand. I hope that you will hear, engage, and stand up. I’m an independent and a socialist and I’m running,” Ramsey said.

Ramsey appears to have no campaign machinery in place beyond posts on social media and seasoned politicos point out that conversations about issues do not equal fixing issues, and debates alone don’t win elections.

The real potential game-changer occurred just hours before the filing deadline, when Jonathan Glover threw his hat in the ring.

The Quiet Heavy Hitter

Glover, 42, may be a political newbie but he’s a local civic heavyweight. He’s a past chairman of the Housing Authority of the City of Asheville and a former member of the city’s Board of Adjustments. He’s been a member of the executive board of Asheville-Buncombe Vision and a past chairman of the Diversity Advisory Council of Carolina Day School (of which he’s a graduate). He’s a volunteer with Caring for Children and a past board member of the North Carolina Arboretum. And he just ended a 20-year stint as an intercollegiate soccer official.

“I did a lot of volunteering,” he says. “Still do. I got into it at first because I wasn’t making much money but I wanted to contribute something, so I gave what I could, which was my time. That was more rewarding than writing a check anyway, so I still do it.”

A graduate of Catawba College, he spent four years as a financial advisor with Merrill Lynch and a year at Morgan Stanley. Presently he’s a mortgage loan advisor with Mortgage Planning Group and is also a software consultant with Toshiba Business Solutions.

Party-wise, Glover is unaffiliated.  He considers himself fiscally responsible.  [Asheville is] is a mess,” he says, “But it’s not an impossible mess.  We need to reprioritize some things.  I care a lot about those who have been left behind and I want all Asheville citizens to succeed and will work hard toward those goals.

Better Jobs, Better Names

Especially,” Glover says, “we need to create new jobs. Not service industry jobs, but sustainable jobs. Jobs that can support people. We need to look out for the people who live here. Charity begins at home.

“I learned so much of this from being around Watt Daddy [legendary black community leader and city councilman Herb “Watt Daddy” Watts] growing up,” Glover says. “He was like a second father to me.

“It sounds like a small thing, but I’d also like to see us lose the term ‘affordable housing.’ People are reluctant to sign up for it because it leads to labelling; it carries a stigma. And it puts developers off. Let’s not just create community housing, let’s think of something more positive to call it,” Glover says.

The Whole Election: Is For-Real Diversity Here to Stay?

Two incumbent city council members, Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler and two-termer Cecil Bothwell, are up for re-election. (Councilman Gordon Smith would have made three but he opted out.)

Bothwell, through sheer crankiness and unpredictability, has become something of an institution; Wisler has emerged as Manheimer’s wingman and, in some cases, as council’s conscience. Both have the weight of their incumbency behind them.

But the unexpectedly large field of challengers includes four ethnic minority candidates and a total of six women, making it possibly the most diverse slate in Asheville history. For voters whose principal aim is seeking to change the dominant face of city council, the announced candidates offer clear possibilities.

They include political newcomer and Green Opportunities staffer Sheneika Smith, Green Party candidate Dee Williams, hotelier Pratik Bhakta, realtor Jeremy Goldstein, economic consultant Vijay Kapoor, Beaucatcher neighborhood activist Jan Howard Kubiniek, financial advisor Rich Lee, public transit advocate Kim Roney, accountant Adrian Vassallo, and musician Andrew Fletcher.

Straws in the Wind

Politics is a field where possibility and reality vie for dominance on any given day. There is a possibility that the 2017 election could see a controlling majority of four minority newcomers swept into office. The reality is that won’t be easy. But the very fact that such diversity is emerging in a city government election in Asheville, North Carolina, is being seen by local observers as an indicator of a fundamental shift in public thinking.

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Monday, July 24, 2017

Asheville starts to use its emergency fund

Buried deep in the City Council meeting agenda for July 25, 2017 is the approval of McDonald Transit contract for the operations and maintenance of the Asheville City Transit System.  A memo from Assistant City Manager, Cathy Ball, requests additional funding of $441,000 that will need to come from the rainy day fund in order to fulfill the transit contract. So, not only does our Transit system lose $7 million a year but now, the City will have to start using its rainy day fund to pay for ongoing operations and maintenance.

North Carolina municipalities are required to maintain 8% of General Fund expenditures, often referred to as the "rainy day fund" to be used in an emergency.  Our City maintains 15% to be safe but that is only $18 million.  Considering that the City recently experienced a $26 million budget overrun causing a massive scale back in its RADTIP project, it is easy to see how that amount can easily be eaten up in one project.  $18 million is not much to put aside for a City with $65 million in debt.  Another recession or major event such as a flood or fire could deplete those funds easily.

City Council members and candidates for the 2017 election should take note of this.  Since Council was "blindsided" by the recent $26 million budget overrun of RADTIP by City Staff, let's hope the Council is aware of this beginning leak of its rainy day fund.

Here is a link to the Memo from Cathy Ball

Letter: Tim Peck on District Elections

Dear Asheville Unreported readers:

Municipal district elections are coming to Asheville. This voting method separates the city into six
geographical areas for electing six city council members. Candidates must reside in their separate districts and be elected by voters from that district. The mayor will still be elected by all of the city. District elections are all about regional representation, increased democracy, and decentralization in city politics.

A law requiring this election method for Asheville was passed by the state legislature in June. Senate Bill 285 mandates that the city change its charter by November 1st to provide for election districts starting with the 2019 elections.

On Tuesday, July 25, Asheville City Council voted to place a referendum on the ballot that purports to allow the voters of Asheville to decide the matter. This is a ruse. You are being lied to. This issue has already been decided by law and a vote against it would only be used to manufacture evidence for a court challenge in a desperate play to maintain the status quo by a few. Senate Bill 285 is clear and in no way allows the results of a local referendum to take precedent over legislation passed by the General Assembly.

Asheville Districts Map



Sunday, July 23, 2017


(*** "Not So Fast")

Guest Letter by Sidney Bach

It's a hard but true fact in the financial world of municipal bond financing (such as the City's proposed issuance of $74 Million in bond debt) that, as a practical matter, no such bonds can be issued (because no financial institution or underwriting syndicate of investors will buy them) UNLESS the City, its City Attorney and its bond counsel can sign off on what is known as a "CERTIFICATE OF NON-LITIGATION."

Such a Certificate must state, without any reservation whatsoever, that there is no litigation pending or threatened that challenges the legal validity of the bonds or the proceedings by which they have been authorized. Since there is a lawsuit about the bond referendum ballot wording that is currently pending in the Buncombe County Superior Court (which recently denied the City's request to dismiss the case), until such time as that lawsuit has been finally resolved by North Carolina's courts, in the real world of finance, no bonds can be or will be issued.

However, in spite of this reality, the City Administration is continuing to pretend and represent to the public that it is proceeding with the bond issue so as to justify the imposition and collection beginning this year of additional City ad valorem property taxes on all privately-owned property in Asheville. Talk about "putting the horse before the cart !"

Now here's the "$74 Million Dollar Question":

Since the City cannot market and sell its proposed bond issues while the current lawsuit is winding its way through the courts (and no "Certificate of Non-Litigation" can be issued in order to sell the bonds) what does the City Administration intend to do with the millions of dollars in additional property taxes it plans to begin collecting now that the Council has approved the 2017-18 annual City Budget? Will we see our tax increases placed aside and earmarked to pay for the interest and principal on the $74 million general obligation bonds IF AND WHENEVER they can be issued... or will some hands at City Hall try to divert this new revenue bonanza stream to other purposes and other projects favored by the bureaucrats in the City Manager's offices (e.g. the Riverside development project that already is "deep in the red" and strapped for cash with a shortfall well in excess of $30 million (and probably even a lot more when new contracts are bid).

If this is allowed to happen, it will be one of the most outrageous and duplicitous schemes ever foisted upon the backs of Asheville's property owners and taxpayers.

Perhaps a new motto for the current City Manager and the City Administration should be printed in large red letters on a huge banner to be strung across the entrance way at City Hall:


Friday, July 7, 2017

Good Ship RADTIP founders On $26 Million sandbar

(NOTE: Asheville Unreported has been reporting on this boondoggle project for the last 2 years (see also  The Mayor shouldn't be shocked since Mr. Chris Peterson warned them of rising construction costs over a year ago during the May 2016 City Council meeting. It is our belief the $74 million GO Bonds were planned for RADTIP costs.)

Budget overrun means city must pledge $6MM to save $14.6MM federal grant
By Roger McCredie
Managing Editor

That loud scraping noise you may have heard downtown last Tuesday was the City of Asheville’s flagship development project running aground on the shoals of a massive -- and apparently totally unexpected – construction cost overrun projection.

The $26 million underestimate is already being called the biggest city financial boondoggle in recent memory. It sent council scurrying to approve a budget addition of $6 million so that it could save a $14.6 million federal grant that is the linchpin of its treasured River Arts District Transportation Improvement Project (RADTIP).

And nobody seems to know how it happened.

Of time and the river

The city manager’s office received bids for the RADTIP construction in May. Council passed the new city budget at its meeting on June 13. Neither during that interim nor at the council meeting was mention made of any financial wild card that could have affected the RADTIP work’s previous $50 million price tag so dramatically. The new reckoning puts anticipated costs at $76 million -- an increase of 52% over that figure -- of which the city (and its taxpayers) would be responsible for another $26 million. Which it doesn’t have.

Records show that on June 15, just two days after the budget was adopted, Deputy City Manager Cathy Ball assured the Buncombe County Tourist Development Authority, which has chipped in $1.8 million in hotel tax money towards the RADTIP project, that the city fully intends to go forward with development of the east bank of the 2.2 mile French Broad Riverfront greenway, plus a botanical garden, a “community plaza” and a boat ramp.

But those are only part of the suite of projects that made up RADTIP. So, given that the bids were received in May, was the city manager’s office already aware of the projected overage at the time the budget was passed?

That much is still unclear (see “The $26 Million Disconnect,” below) What was made clear at the June 27 meeting was that council needed to contribute another $6 million, and it needed to do it then and there because shovels needed to start turning on the river no later than August 1. Or else the TIGER VI money would … well … go away.

“I need something I can sign tonight,” Ball told council.

Hold That Tiger

TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) is a federal discretionary grant program that was founded in 2009 to provide supplementary funding for “surface transportation projects.” The Roman numeral suffix denotes the year following 2009 that the grant is awarded; hence, when Asheville received $850,000 worth of TIGER funds in 2010, the grant was titled “TIGER II.” That grant became the seed money for RADTIP.

TIGER VI grants, therefore, were awarded during 2014; in September of that year one of them ended up on the City of Asheville’s doorstep. There was general rejoicing at City Hall. An entire city department was created to implement RADTIP. Even as the original $50 million price tag emerged in 2015, the city was supremely confident. It could count on a $1.3 million public works assistance grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration; a $4.2 million grant from the state DOT / French Broad River Metropolitan Planning; $1.1 million in other state grants; $1.8 million from TDA; a $300,000 direct contribution from Buncombe County; and $800,000 in retained TIGER II funds.

That same year (2015) the city let its bids. The clock ticked quietly away on the TIGER VI’s August 1, 2017, must-start deadline. It is not known whether, over the next two years, anyone was keeping an eye on increases in area construction costs, but subsequent events suggest not.

Which is how it came to pass that on the evening of June 27 Cathy Ball took Gary Jackson’s accustomed seat on the dais (Jackson wasn’t in the house) to report that the city needed more money. And to say how much of the original RADTIP plan would have to be jettisoned to keep the ship afloat.

Damage Control

The bottom line, Ball said, was that several items would need to be gutted from (she said “delayed”) the RADTIP suite of projects: namely, development of the French Broad Greenway’s west bank as well as all plans for creating the proposed Town Branch and Bacoate (formerly Clingman Forest) greenways.

The work she had outlined to TDA on June 15 could go forward, Ball said, plus two traffic roundabouts, road realignment on Riverside Drive and 1.5 miles of new sidewalk, mostly on Lyman Street – provided the city could promise another $6 million. Immediately.

The $26 million disconnect

The discussion that followed, observers said, dramatically illustrated what has been called “the ongoing disconnect” between the city manager’s office and city council.

Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler congratulated staff on its “thoroughness,” but said she had “concerns about transparency and equity” in the bid reviewing process. She called Jackson’s office’s work “stellar up to a point,’ but, she said, “When the bids came in it felt like radio silence.

“Why didn’t the staff let the council and the public know about the size of the overrun and allow the public to weigh in on the portions of the project that were being delayed?” Wisler asked. “How are we going to make sure the public has a real chance for input in the choices that are being made going forward? How do we make sure that an equity lens is being applied in completing this project?”

Noting that at present the council’s only direct input from city staff happens on days that city council meets – every two weeks – Wisler said, “… I’m taking this on as chair of the finance committee: I would like staff to update, very regularly, the finance committee on what the status of all these projects is – RADTIP, the bond program and frankly even the rest of the [capital improvement program] … keep us in the loop on a very routine basis as to what the current estimates are, what the issues are, so that we allow the public to weigh in.”

Fair questions

“I think your questions are fair,” Ball replied, adding that the staff’s “primary concern” – presumably over and above communicating with anybody – “ was how to maneuver through the Federal Highway administration to be able to maintain the $14.6 million … , we were very concerned with the ability to move fast and be able to get this funding secured.”
“We can’t guarantee TIGER VI funding without approval tonight,” Ball repeated. The contract is contingent on our being able to turn dirt on August 1.
“Do you want me to go ahead and answer the other questions and concerns?” Ball asked. Wisler nodded encouragingly.
“The next phases will be very transparent,” Ball promised. “We will have a process to ask our community what they want to see funded, approved, and we will be very deliberate in how we do that.
“Transparency will be through a community dashboard so that people will be able to see how much money we have in planning and how much money we’ve spent,” Ball said.
No bids for Livingston, but they’ll get a dandy stop sign.

A major factor in the time scramble, Ball said, was that initially the city failed to garner the requisite three responses per project after bids were let in May. Law requires that in such cases, any bids received must be returned to the bidders unopened; then projects may be rebid and any and all bids may be opened and entertained. The rebidding process, which council was likewise unaware of, ate up more time, she said.

Ball then disclosed that no bids at all were received for pedestrian traffic improvements to the Livingston Street neighborhood, which had been part and parcel of the Bacoate Greenway plans. But city transportation manager Ken Putnam told council Livingston Street will nonetheless get a crosswalk in front of Green’s Grocery, as well as a newfangled stop sign complete with flashing lights.

Wisler returned to the time-lapse issue.
 “What I’ve gotten from the community is the timing on the contracts,” she said. “Talk to me about the 60 days” the bids were said to be good for.
“Contractors will only guarantee bids for a certain period of time,” Ball said. “That’s why the city manager wanted to make sure that there was something I could sign tonight,” she repeated. Again.
“How could we be this surprised by the bid?” councilman Cecil Bothwell asked.” How could we not know construction prices were ratcheting up?”
“Again, that’s a very fair question,” Ball replied. “We have asked ourselves that.”
“We brought on board a construction-manage-of-risk consultant in November to do preliminary estimates,” Ball said. A construction manager at risk is a project delivery method in which the construction manager agrees to bring the project in at or under a guaranteed maximum price.
“We were very surprised to turn around less than six months later and receive bids that were in the $20MM range above that.”
Nobody’s interested so it costs more

“There is a lack of competition in WNC for this kind of work, which drives up prices,” Ball told Council. 
Her assessment was echoed by other city staffers, who also opined that contractors are reluctant to bid on work that is not scheduled to begin for two years or more, and said this was probably particularly true in the case of the Livingston Street work.

The mayor is shocked. Shocked!

“I was shocked to hear what these bids came in at,” Mayor Esther Manheimer said. “These projects have not dropped off the list, they are now further down the list – but they’re without specific funding designations and that’s not always a good thing.”
“I did not fully understand that we did not receive any bids at all for the Livingston Street project; that certainly is a challenge in terms of deciding what to do tonight,” she said.
“It’s alarming that we don’t have folks bidding … Maybe we all need to stop what we’re doing and get a contracting company going or something,” Manheimer added. “I don’t think that delaying all this funding would be a smart decision tonight. We’re between a rock and a hard place.”
“Congratulations aren’t in order.”

“I personally have no faith that these numbers we are giving now are going to hold,” current mayoral and former council candidate Jonathan Wainscott told council during public comment, “and I don’t think it’s appropriate to congratulate staff over and over on its thoroughness when their thoroughness is providing nothing but bad information.”

Several members of the group Asheville on Bikes urged council to direct as much funding as possible toward bike lanes and other bike safety measures, stressing that bicycling is a form of multimodal transportation and not a sport or hobby. Former councilman and avid cyclist Marc Hunt asked council to consider widening Lyman Street to include a six-foot-wide bike lane. He came equipped with cross-sectional drawings, which seemed to indicate an advance awareness that RADTIP cuts might be in the offing.

In the end the revamped RADTIP package, with its additional $6 million price tag, passed council unanimously. Hunt got his six-foot bike path. And the question of how the bid costs actually managed to increase by $26 million in two years’ time was never resolved.

“Time flies when you’re having funds,” Bothwell told Asheville Unreported.

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