The Austin Chronicle

Where the Money's Going

By Katherine Gregor, April 16, 2010, News

After years of billing Capital Metro rather languidly, the city has been on a construction roll during the current recession – which has put more financial pressure on Cap Metro. City Manager Marc Ott, Assistant City Manager Robert Goode, and acting Assistant City Manager Howard Lazarus have accelerated road-work schedules and Quarter Cent Program projects, in part as "our own local economic stimulus package," said Lazarus. "We've been getting the work done for less in a better bidding climate, while keeping our local construction companies in business. ... We're getting projects done in two months instead of six months."

As a result of all this recent activity (see chart in "Gone and Quartered"), as of Jan. 31, the city has more than $20 million either encumbered – meaning the projects are under contract and the city still must pay its contractors – or considered an obligation to be paid under some other type of agreement. "That's where we're impacted by Capital Metro," said Lazarus. Only a minority of the 34 projects are completed with contractors paid in full. (Note: Capital Metro Transit Authority provided a slightly different Quarter Cent Program accounting, but the city's version has been used for this story.)

In the past 12 months (April 2009 through March 2010), said Lazarus, the city has awarded 75 contracts for projects managed by the Public Works Department. That's about six contracts a month, and it reflects only about two-thirds of the city's total recent projects: "Everybody, in all departments, has pushed to get the work out," Lazarus said. In many cases, the quarter-cent funds have been combined with bond funding – and more projects have been added, as earlier ones came in under bid. Lazarus said by e-mail, "The estimated value of these projects is $320M, whereas the contract value is $206M" – so the city has saved a whopping 35.6% over its original project estimates. "They're sharpening their pencils and giving really good bids," Goode said of contractors, "and that's good news for city coffers."

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