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Town Hall Project: $10,000 More Needed
Town Manager Says Overrun "Shouldn't Come Under Least Bit Of Scrutiny"
February 5, 2013

I
t appears that the cost of Oriental’s Town Hall renovation will go over the budget of $289,000. That’s contrary to earlier assurances from Town Manager Bob Maxbauer to the Town Board and the public that the project would come in at or under budget.

Maxbauer, who had also been the General Contractor on the renovation, told the Board at last Thursday’s agenda meeting that at the February 5th Board meeting he would be seeking $10,000 more for the project.

Town Manager Bob Maxbauer who was the General Contractor on the renovation project. He told the Board that $10,000 shouldn’t come under the least bit of scrutiny.

His announcement of that cost overrun came as Commissioners were settling in for the first time to their seats on a dais in the renovated Town Hall’s meeting room.

Seeking Ten Thousand Dollars More

“The Manager is asking for a $10,000 budget amendment to the project,” Maxbauer told them, speaking of himself in the third person.

Maxbauer’s rationale was that it was money he had sought from the board in the first place, last year, when he presented a budget and design.

“If the board will recall, the Manager asked for $300,000 to begin with,” Maxbauer said “It was the Board’s decision to not approach that number and scale that back to $289,000.”

The new meeting room at Town Hall. Town Manager/General Contractor Bob Maxbauer takes a photo of the Commissioners settling in at the dais that he designed as part of renovation.

Ten thousand dollars, Maxbauer went on, was “only a 3% cost difference.”

He said some of the cost overrun was caused by the the extra month it took to complete the project. He also said that he had not budgeted the cost of the labor to install the tile that, following his design, runs throughout the building.

Maxbauer: $10,000 Shouldn’t Come Under Least Bit Of Scrutiny

Maxbauer last year had pressed the Town Board to let him be the General Contractor on the grounds that hiring a private General Contractor would increase the price of the job 25%. He gave assurances at several meetings that the job would stay within the budget.

On January 31, he did not take a contrite route in seeking the $10,000 for the cost over-run.

“I don’t think that $10,000 should even come under the least bit of scrutiny.” Maxbauer told the Board. “I can’t think of another project of this magnitude that would be held up to such granularity as that.”

At the agenda meeting, one Commissioner, Warren Johnson, pressed the Town Manager for some granularity. And not just about the $10,000 over run.

Johnson: Numbers “Not Pretty”

Johnson said that while the Manager/General Contractor was “requesting” the $10,000 “budget amendment, the Town Board would have to grant it because there were bills had been incurred. “We have to do it,” Johnson said. “We don’t have a choice.”

Commissioner Warren Johnson.

But Johnson said he had a lot of questions about the way money was spent. What he’d seen of the numbers, he said, was “not pretty.” He gave one example. Johnson said that the $289,000 budget had included $14,000 to redo the parking lot and restore landscaping around the building. (Maxbauer had torn out almost every tree and shrub the Tree Board had planted and maintained around the building.) Johnson said, there had also been an allocation of $5,600 in the renovation budget to buy new furniture. He noted that the money had not been spent on those things and wanted to know why.

To the point about the furniture, Maxbauer’s response was that the Town Board could “continue to invest” in the building and “add furniture, furnishings and admonishments such as crown moulding.” That would not be money coming out of the budget for the renovation, however. As for the unimproved parking lot, Maxbauer told Johnson, “we can park cars on it.” He did not say what that $19,600 ($14,000 plus $5,600) had gone to instead.

How Specific A Budget?

In the exchange between Maxbauer and Johnson, a picture began to emerge of a project that didn’t hold a General Contractor to specifics.

Maxbauer stated that the budget for the Town Hall renovation had “no specifications written for these various ancillary parts to it.”

Commissioner Johnson, however, persisted. Contrary to Maxbauer’s claim, Johnson said that the budget “did state ‘Parking and Landscaping – $14,000.‘”

Town Manager/General Contractor Bob Maxbauer at the booth at left of the room where two of the five staffers from the Town Hall Office will also sit during the meetings.

Mr. Maxbauer used a third-person self-reference to suggest he had wide latitude in the project. “If you’ll definitely recall,” Maxbauer said, “the Board gave The Manager the ability to..” He broke off and picked up again, “It was ‘this much money, here’s the drawing,’ this is what we got.”

Maxbauer continued, “If the board wants or attempts to find disappointment in the building or the facility…”.

In the Town Manager/General Contractor’s pause, Johnson interjected. “The facility is awesome,” the Commissioner said “I’m just concerned about the expenditures and how it’s going to apply”.

Johnson: Am I The Only One?”

Johnson several times at the agenda meeting said he’d like a special financial meeting to sort out the figures on costs for the building. “Am I the only one?” he asked fellow commissioners. If there were no special meeting planned, Johnson said he would “just run down my list” at the February 5th meeting. He implied he had a lot of questions for the Town Manager/General Contractor. “I’m good for an hour,” Johnson said.

Oriental Town Commissioners on their dais. At right is Larry Summers who said Johnson’s questions at a public meeting wasn’t the right thing to do.
Summers: Asking In Public Meeting Not Right Thing

That’s when another commissioner signalled that he didn’t want an airing of all those questions in public. Fellow commissioner Larry Summers said, “what I don’t think is the right thing to do is a public meeting.” To ask such questions “in the format of the meeting,” Summers told Johnson and other commissioners, “isn’t a practical exercise.”

Summers suggested that Johnson meet with Maxbauer one on one before Tuesday night’s meeting. (Such one on one meetings are not subject to North Carolina’s open meetings law.) “Talk to Bob and find out what was true, what wasn’t true” Summers said, and then “refine the document” for the rest of the Board.

Johnson said he planned to meet with the Town Manager on Tuesday during the day and then report back to his fellow Commissioners at the 7p meeting.

Also at Tuesday’s Board meeting, the accounting firm that conducted the Town’s annual audit will be delivering its report about the bookkeeping of the previous fiscal year. The Manager suggested that the concerns about the money spent on the Town Hall should be allayed because the findings in that audit would be good. Warren Johnson concurred that the audit may be positive, but wasn’t taking that as a reason to stop asking questions about the money spent on the Town Hall construction since the past summer. The audit Johnson says, is for the previous year. “I’m talking about the current year.”

Meanwhile, how the Town will pay for the renovation remains an open question and a separate issue. The Town Manager had earlier said that some of the cost could be defrayed by FEMA money from Hurricane Irene. Amounts above $100,000 were cited earlier last year, but of late the Town was waiting to hear if it had received a $76,000 grant. Regardless of whether that comes through, the Town Board is looking at applying for a loan. That will be discussed at a retreat the Board plans to hold on February 22-23. (By law, that retreat is open to the public.)

The Town Board meeting starts at 7p tonight.

Posted Tuesday February 5, 2013 by Melinda Penkava