Saturday, September 12, 2009

Pretty Soon We'll Be Talking Real Money

To paraphrase Everett Dirksen, I believe, "$3 million here, $3 million there, and pretty soon, you're talking real money."

I can remember his deep, gravelly voice and unique countenance; too bad most of his orations predate the modern media archive age.

You may have read that our local authorities have eliminated the former Times Record building over by the Public Works yard as a candidate for use by the Police Department. If you didn't, you're out of luck, unless it's in the Forecaster, because the local daily didn't consider the item worthy of their web page.

The reason it's been eliminated is because "consulting architects" have estimated the renovations required at about $3 million. This would be on top of the $800,000 we've already spent to make the place pretty spiffy, at least those parts I've seen.

The Times Record building history as it relates to town governance has been "undistinguished," to use a euphemism, and provides a pretty clear example of just how ineffectual our government can be in handling capital acquisitions and construction.

The facility, comprising something like 33,000 square feet, more than 6 times the space now housing the Police, was acquired for less than $1.3 million a few years back. Apparently no-one in our government understood the words "due diligence," because shortly after the town bought it, it was announced that it would need more than $5 million in work to be useful as a town facility. This number was considered a deal breaker for such purposes, even though we owned the place by then.

The idea of "due diligence," in case you don't already know, is to look into such things BEFORE you close a deal, so that you know exactly what you're getting into. It's a "caveat emptor" kind of thing. This is why there are people called "building inspectors" and others of similar purpose. One might have expected this to occur to our highly compensated and certified town staff, and others, but apparently it did not.

End result: one 33,000 sq ft bag being held by all of us, with little apparent use for the future. And under the circumstances, very little chance for sale to someone else.

So, here we are. A white elephant for town purposes, and the sure probability that the solution for the Police will exceed the costs mentioned, but no doubt it will be "worth it in the long run, especially when community pride is considered." I could start writing the statements for the council right now. No matter who they'll be at the time.

My real purpose today is to ask you to come to grips with the concept of $3 million in renovations. I could be way off, but as I think of Police, besides the need for plain vanilla square footage for offices, lockers, and "interviews," the only unique requirements they have are for holding cells and all their communications gear.

The latter already exists, and simply needs appropriate space; the former, well, how much can it cost to build some holding cells? Especially if you "recycle" the bars from the current facility.

I've been made sport of for equating $1.8 million to four upper end homes in Meadowbrook. But I stand by that as a way of picturing things, absent other reference points.

So I'll leave you with this. $3 million to renovate the building is equivalent to buying 7 or so upper end homes in Meadowbrook, paint, wallpaper, kitchens, yards, and all. Is there anyone else who thinks that this doesn't pass a first test of reasonableness, especially after having spent $800,000 in renovations already? Is there anyone who thinks the Police need nearly 7 times their current space?

Am I destined to be out on a lonesome limb as the only one who thinks that our "public servants" and paid staff have become desensitized when it comes to spending OPM, and that they start off with "grandiose" as a minimum concept?

Yup, I think I am. But should you feel sorry for me in my loneliness, you could always post a comment, or even better, decide to ask some questions.

Not at any public meetings, though. You won't get any answers, and you could well be gaveled down for a breach of decorum.

And directed to publicly apologize for the TV cameras. And then you'd be a laughing stock.

Rest easy, though; it can be fun.

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