This is a follow-up on yesterday’s post about Mayor Cooper’s announcement to reallocate $17.95 million of capital spending from the stalled Gulch pedestrian bridge to other infrastructure projects around the city. Here’s my post from yesterday. Here’s a good story that WPLN’s Tony Gonzalez put out today.
As the day ended yesterday, I had several open questions. I can report that the Cooper administration has pinned down the details for me.
The first question was about what had been spent already on the bridge project out of the originally approved $18 million. I’m told that it was about $15,000 for engineering and planning, about $21,000 for appraisal services, about $9,000 to a contractor for repairs and maintenance, and about $2,000 for a right of way easement. That leaves approximately $17.95 million of the original $18 million.
On this first question, I also wanted to know how a $2.66 million payment for additional easements fit in the mix. I’ll be really blunt about this. How the $2.66 million was handled in 2016 is complete crap and an example of why people have a hard time trusting the government. On September 27, 2016, the administration sent an email to the Metro Council with a memo that said the money was coming out of the $18 million approved for the bridge. The memo said, “One key fact is that this legislation [to spend $2.66 million on an easement] does NOT appropriate additional funding for the project. Funding was approved by the Council through RS2013-710 which authorized $18 million in G.O. Bonds.”
In reliance of this memo and its representations about the source of the money, the Council passed the legislation in mid-October 2016. But then when the city paid the money a short time later on December 8, 2016, it took the money from another account. That’s why there is still $17.95 out of the original $18 million left for the bridge funding even though there was a $2.66 million payment for an easement in 2016. This is the Mickey Mouse shell game financing nonsense that drove the mayor’s campaign to a 70% win. I hope this administration does better.
The second question was whether there is $17.95 million sitting in a bank account somewhere, or whether this is approved debt that has not yet actually been borrowed by Metro. The answer is that this is approved debt that hasn’t been actually borrowed yet by Metro. Given the strong need for the various infrastructure projects, I don’t expect this to create much or any objection in the Council.
The third question was whether Council approval is necessary to reallocate money to the new proposed projects. To the administration’s credit, when I requested that we sidestep the debate and just err on the side of bringing this to the Council for approval, they agreed. WPLN quoted a spokesperson saying, “in the interest of full transparency and out of respect for the Council process,” they would bring the spending changes to the Council.
In the end, I think most people are only going to think about this in terms of whether they like the infrastructure projects that will be built. I think almost everyone will like them. But these details about how it works are important.