s first reported by The Landmark more than a year ago, revenue from Platte County’s 3/8-cent roads sales tax is projected to be as much as $15 million less than projected when voters approved the increase by a 58 percent majority in 2003.
The budget shortfall issue was alluded to during the administrative session of the Platte County Commission last Thursday. And, it was also publicly established that project cost estimates presented to the public when the road tax was voted upon are, and will continue to be, way off base.
“Are the estimates in the plan accurate?” Jim Plunkett, second district commissioner, asked Aaron Schmidt, roads master plan director.
“No,” was the reply from Schmidt.
“That’s kind of troubling to me since I was part of the process for putting together the Roads Master Plan,” Presiding Commissioner Betty Knight said.
Tom Pryor, first district commissioner, also expressed concern.
“I’m at a loss for how we’re going to make this program work,” Pryor said, in light of project cost estimates being too low and revenue estimates that were overinflated to voters.
In discussion was phase 2, the final phase, of the Jones-Meyer Road improvement project, one of a list of 23 road and bridge priorities on the county’s Road and Bridge Master Plan for the unincorporated parts of Platte County.
Aaron Schmidt, road projects manager, on Thursday asked the commissioners to approve his proposal for the completion of phase 2 of Jones-Meyer Road improvements. Schmidt’s plan calls for expenditures of about $1.2 million over what the tax proponents estimated for the project during the spring 2003 campaign.
Schmidt asked the commissioners to award phase 2 to LEXECO of Leavenworth, Kansas. LEXECO (which stands for “Leavenworth Excavating Company”) originally submitted a bid of $3 million for just phase 2 of Jones-Meyer Road. The bid did not include the Fox Road improvement, which the original Roads Master Plan calls for.
Schmidt was able to reduce the phase 2 bid down to $2.4 million through “value engineering.”
Value engineering can roughly be described as improving the surface of an existing road without moving much, if any, earth, Schmidt described.
Value engineering “doesn’t change the project significantly in terms of location,” said Schmidt, “The geometry doesn’t change.” Value engineering alters a project because it calls for “not changing the existing alignment of a road,” Schmidt said.
“Value engineering reduces the scope of the engineer’s design,” District 2 Commissioner Jim Plunkett amplified.
“Moving earth” (e.g. leveling hills on the route of the road) essentially makes the route flatter which “improves site distance issues for future expansion and needed improvements,” Schmidt said.
The commissioners voted 3-0 against Schmidt’s request to grant the project to LEXECO. Schmidt offered to negotiate with the construction firm to try to “value engineer” the project even lower than $2.4 million.
Schmidt also suggested to the council that they drop improving priority 3 bridges from the County Road and Bridge Master Plan (which currently calls for budgeted expenditures of about $770,000, not enough to cover the $1.2 million shortfall for phase 2).
The commissioners said no.
“Where are we going to come up with this money (the $1.2 million phase 2 budget shortfall) without cutting somebody else’s project?” asked Tom Pryor. “Someone else’s bridge or road will have to be cut. Are we going to keep doing this every time?”
Knight at first offered an alternative: for Plunkett to table his original motion to vote on the measure and give Aaron Schmidt an opportunity to “value engineer” phase 2 even more, and then return to the commissioners with a new proposal.
Knight alternatively suggested that the commission go ahead and approve Schmidt’s request to use LEXICO as the contractor for phase 2 of Jones-Myer Road and then have Schmidt work with the contractor to get the project cost down closer to the $1.2 million remaining in the budget for phase 2.
Ultimately Knight voted like Pryor and Plunkett and defeated Schmidt’s request.
Commissioner Plunkett, like the other two commissioners, does not want to give up on any of the 23 priority road and bridge projects in unincorporated Platte County.
“I will do my best to honor my commitments to the county,” Plunkett said. “I was not prepared to drop other road projects and part of the bridge projects, as suggested by staff, to cover cost over-runs for Jones-Meyer.”
“I absolutely will not take from another project. I’m not going to give up on the plan. We’re not going to be able to do the whole road (Jones-Myer),” said Plunkett.
$2.3 million was the original Roads Master Plan budget for the entire Jones-Myer Road improvement project. The entire project sold the voters a list of road improvements on Jones-Meyer and Fox roads. The improvements included going from gravel surface to engineered asphalt, replacement of one bridge and refurbishing of another, and other engineering improvements.
A lot of the current budget problem, said Plunkett, is that phase 1 of Jones-Meyer, bid out in 2004, cost the county $1.2 million—accounting for half of the total Jones-Meyer project budget. Phase 1 accounted for only 1/4 of the total project improvements.
Phase 2 was behind budget before it even went for bids, Plunkett said.