Saturday, October 10, 2009

What are the chances?

The chances of exactly what, I suppose you are asking.

All in due time.

As I recall, the original estimate for the new unnecessary elementary school was about $28 million, and we were told the state would pay about $23.5 million of that while the town would pay the rest, or about $4.5 million.

(Note to the interested student: whatever the total, the town will take on the entire obligation and borrow the total amount in our name. The state's participation is by making annual payments to the town to offset the debt service payments. So everything will be in our name, and we have the "promise" of the state to help us out on our payments. If the state finds itself unable or unwilling to do so in the future, you and I will be holding the entire bag.")

Reports are that the bids coming back in for the construction from seven interested parties are running about $5 million less than the original figure.

Accordingly, town officials face a decision. Should they leave the specifications as is and save us $5 million or so in debt, or should they immediately upscale the scope and specifications of the construction task to consume the $5 million in headroom with more goodies and luxuries?

There is another option of course; the state could reduce its share by $5 million, and given the budget crisis they face, they will be sorely tempted to do so. I can't begin to assess what the political implementation of such a change would involve.

Assuming the state did not do so, saving the $5 million could, for example, allow for construction of Public Safety facilities without incurring debt beyond what was originally expected for the school alone. That would be fiscal prudence and appropriate stewardship of town resources in the face of a severe economic outlook.

On the other hand, those afflicted with brass plaque syndrome and a pathological desire to shower other peoples' money upon "the children", or more correctly, the adults who surround the children, will no doubt feel an obligation to consume the potential $5 million savings by making lavish additions to the design.

They'll rationalize that the town was already conditioned to a $28 million price tag, and made their feelings known based on that figure. So they might as well give us what we were expecting, right?

How do you think it will play out? As for me, I wouldn't bet on saving the money for other uses. As they say, it's "in their nature" for officials staring at a boat load of public money to spend it. Especially when the adulation of "the schoolies" is involved.

Some will call me cynical for that view, even though I am simply making a judgment based on history. Those in charge can gain the satisfaction of proving me a cynic, rather than a sage predictor of official behavior, by going with the lower bids and saving us $5 million.

When it comes to gambling though, betting on the reduced construction cost is like betting that the leaves will fly up from the ground and reattach themselves to the trees from whence they fell come spring.

And turn a lovely spring green in the process.

How many chips would you like to buy?

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