Water whirled

Riff Raff, by Michael Tilley
mtilley@thecitywire.com

In case you were wondering, we checked and are confident that the concepts and planning and budgeting for this on-again, off-again water park at Ben Geren Regional Park were not managed by Kathleen Sebelius or the person in charge of security at the Nelson Mandela funeral.

What we do know is that this back and forth on the funding or lack thereof for what is supposed to be a water park is as tiresome as it is troubling. And, by way of comparison, unnecessary. The powers-that-be in Clarksville and Rogers – two smaller Arkansas communities within a one-hour drive of Fort Smith – were able to build a slightly smaller and slightly larger, respectively, water park with little to no drama or delay. And they did so with little to no deviation from what was presented to and approved by voters.

The governments of Sebastian County and Fort Smith partnered to build what was originally an $8 million facility that would handle about 1,100 “bathers.” In a March 2012 special election, Fort Smith voters approved a sales tax plan that included water park funding. The water park plan portion of the tax question was approved by 64% of the about 14.5% of registered voters who turned out.

Here we are nine-months later and the amenities for the park and the cost of the park are about as certain as your 2015 healthcare coverage plans and costs. Not only do these two governments appear unable to build a water park, I’m not sure they could Build-A-Bear. The cost of this $8 million park is now at least $11 million, an almost 38% premium over the original estimate and for a park that will accommodate about 200 fewer bathers.

The root of the problem can be traced back to the inability or unwillingness of Sebastian County Judge David Hudson to realistically assess the project cost prior to the city of Fort Smith agreeing to take the issue to voters. Essentially, Judge Hudson had $4 million for his half of the project and the true costs didn’t matter, even when asked by city officials if he was sure $8 million would do the job. Unfortunately, the Fort Smith Board of Directors and the Sebastian County Quorum Court took his word for it, and the legislative bodies are now paying for that trust by trying to get answers to questions that should have been asked before March 2012. Ready, shoot, aim.

This historical summation does nothing to address the predicament we now face of a promised water park that exceeds the promised budget. The question now is, “How do we pull this cart-driven horse out of the ditch?”

The answer is, “You shoot the horse and burn the cart.” OK, that’s not really the answer because, well, ummm, the PETA folks would raise hell over shooting a horse and there do not appear to be any good answers. Instead, there are several options that, depending on your perspective, have varying degrees of suck.

One option is that both parties walk away from the deal. This option is unlikely, if for no other reason than the city of Fort Smith has spent around $200,000 for financing costs, and the Board has a quasi-mandate from the voters to build something that resembles a water park – and a park that includes much more than a trampoline, above-ground pool and a slip-n-slide.

Another option is to build what you can build for $8 million (or $8.8 million or $9.2 million or whatever the latest number may be) and hope the voters are happy enough with it that they don’t hold it against you the next time a sales tax question hits the ballot. Just as an observation, the scaled-down version of the water park we all dove into before getting more info now excludes an area deep enough in which to dive.

Yet another possibility is that both sides agree to keep the project alive, but pull back and reassess options. Some folks say that is not an option because park completion was promised by Memorial Day 2015.

A rumored option is that Hudson, pressured to keep the plug from being pulled on his wet dream, may find around $1.5 million from budgets for future county capital projects to meet half of the estimated $3 million needed to raise the $11 million now needed to build what was originally an $8 million park. Still with me? The thinking here is that if Hudson finds the money, the Fort Smith Board of Directors will approve a match. The extra money would likely come from the about $25 million the city estimates it will collect from the voter-approved one-eighth cent sales tax revenue dedicated to city parks. However, most of that annual revenue for the next three years is tied up in building a soccer facility along the Riverfront, and softball fields at Chaffee Crossing and Ben Geren. Peter, meet Paul.

This rumored option has the advantage of not requiring the matter to go back before Fort Smith voters. Also, the rumored option has the disadvantage of spending more on a project than approved by Fort Smith voters.

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Also, we might note we don’t have info on what this revised water park plan will require in annual financial support once complete. What’s the cost for maintenance and operations for a facility open five – maybe six – full months out of the year?

The only thing approximating certainty with our situation is that regardless of the option or outcome, we’re likely to get soaked on this deal.

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Comments

Cost Overruns on Aquatics Park

I am wondering why the Wire and others have not placed any blame on Larkin Aquatics? Had a local architect budgeted a project in this manner, heads would have rolled in the media.

appropriate heads

The folks with Larkin are merely consultants. They do not have decision-making authority, nor are they elected agents of the people.

Good point Mr Tilley

All the boys have brought out the blankets for the cover-up! The real facts are that our local experienced contractor could build the Water Park better for less and keep it close to the original projected cost but for some strange reason our "leaders" prefer to use an out of state contractor that has been charged with paying 2 million dollars in bribes while one of our other great city leaders was on the radio this morning telling the people of Fort Smith how important it is to shop locally and keep the money in Fort Smith! What is the world is going on?

anonYmous spots the "dangling string"

anon, rightly so, the non sequitur has grabbed your attention. You write: "...but for some strange reason our 'leaders' prefer to use an out of state contractor..." Whoa! If that is not a non sequitur "dangling string" I don't know what one is. And one is all it takes. I suspect that if anyone possessing adroit intellect and a willingness to confront evil were to aggressively begin pulling this 'string' that it would not be long before the string became a rope that would soon after that become a heavy log chain. And...when the end of that log chain is discovered it will be wrapped around the ankle of a 1200 pound gorilla that does not take kindly to uninvited visitors. One of the first questions to ask is...what set of circumstances, both short and long range, would justify using an out of state contractor on this project, even if the contractor has a pristine and proven track record? Once this question has been clearly answered, the next obvious questions will fall in line to be asked. As you say anon, "What in the world is going on?" Maybe the time has come for us to begin finding out. BTW, my apologies to the gorillas of the world for choosing to use their image as a metaphor for evil. Of course, gorillas are not evil. However, they are big and powerful and they can be quite intimidating.
anon, rightly so, the non sequitur has grabbed your attention. You write: "...but for some strange reason our 'leaders' prefer to use an out of state contractor..." Whoa! If that is not a non sequitur "dangling string" I don't know what one is. And one is all it takes. I suspect that if anyone possessing adroit intellect and a willingness to confront evil were to aggressively begin pulling this 'string' that it would not be long before the string became a rope that would soon after that become a heavy log chain. And...when the end of that log chain is discovered it will be wrapped around the ankle of a 1200 pound gorilla that does not take kindly to uninvited ...>> Read the entire comment.

The1200 Pound Gorilla

The 1200 pound gorilla watches the other 1200 pound gorilla to make sure that he does not get any more than his share of the free bananas and sometimes loses sight of all the other banana lovers that are in the trees waiting and watching for an opportunity to snatch the bananas. Don't you just love the animal world of local government or should we call it the "animal house?"

Trip to The Zoo

The 1200 pound Gorilla is the big boss in the cage and if a little monkey dares to challenge the authority of the gorilla, in or out of the cage, all hell breaks loose and the little monkey gets bumped and all the other gorillas join in to assert their authority over the little insolent insipid trespasser. Life in the monkey cage appears to resemble life in the city when one has the audacity to disagree with the ruling authority.

Problem with Cost Overruns on Water Park

But it is the "consultant" that develops the estimate and the budget and gives that data to Owners so they can get revenues to construct. And Owners depend upon their accuracy. We did not do that to the County on the Courts Building. We were on budget. We did not do that to the City of Fire Station 11. We are on budget. Why wouldn't you hold an out-of-town consultant to the same standards you would have for a local consultant.

Good Question Reddick

Could the answer to your question be 2,000,000.00 dollars of extra money floating around "out of town" to be dispersed into to friendly hands? Check the performance history and criminal charges against the out of town people against the local contractor that built the Clarksville facility. Bingo, its a no-brainer!

Blame Game

Flintco of Tulsa was selected by City Leaders as the Big Dog to handle the Water Park project and then The City Wire exposed the real facts that Flintco of Tulsa was investigated by the FBI and charged by the Attorney General for paying up to 2 million dollars in bribes for contract awards. The City Wire also exposed the fact that Flintco of Tulsa had raised their construction charges by about 2 million dollars so the Taxpayers and you should be thanking the City Wire for getting the real facts out to the public.

I'll see ya 8 and raise ya 2....million

So Flintco and the County and City fathers must think we all are just plain stupid. Is it as simple as $2million in previous bribes needs to be recouped by raising our Waterpark price by.....What do you know?....$ 2 million ? Do you believe in coincidences?

Deal Em Big Boy

Poker is a great pastime for the incompetent that have the votes to play with your money! Its even a better game when the deck is stacked and only the Taxpayers get hosed! 2 million here, 2 million there is not a problem until you learn the real price of admission to the game.

Water park options

First of all, great article. We have a lack of leadership in Fort Smith / Sebastian County similar to what we have in Washington DC (both parties). I voted for the project but right now, my vote is to walk away from it. The way our leaders handled this project is about as bad as Washington is handling the "Affordable" Care Act. I have no idea how they are going to pay for the operating loss from the park. Again, kind of like our new health plan. We need to clean house in Fort Smith starting with the city administrator and get someone who knows how to get things done properly. Build-A-Bear??? It might get done but not on time and will cost twice as much. Walk away now.
First of all, great article. We have a lack of leadership in Fort Smith / Sebastian County similar to what we have in Washington DC (both parties). I voted for the project but right now, my vote is to walk away from it. The way our leaders handled this project is about as bad as Washington is handling the "Affordable" Care Act. I have no idea how they are going to pay for the operating loss from the park. Again, kind of like our new health plan. We need to clean house in Fort Smith starting with the city administrator and get someone who knows how to get things done properly. Build-A-Bear??? It might get done but not on time and will cost twice as ...>> Read the entire comment.

Great article Michael

It seems to me that the County Judge, the JP's, The City Administrator, and the Board Of Directors need to get together and do what is right for the people of Fort Smith on the Water Park. The most important matter at hand is to keep their promise to the citizens and build the water park as advertised and promised. They also need to use a local experienced contractor to do the work and keep the money in Fort Smith with local jobs and local business. It puzzles me that certain city leaders tell the citizens of the city to shop with local business and then the County and City Leaders do business with a suspect out of state contractor and ignore a experienced local Water Park contractor.
It seems to me that the County Judge, the JP's, The City Administrator, and the Board Of Directors need to get together and do what is right for the people of Fort Smith on the Water Park. The most important matter at hand is to keep their promise to the citizens and build the water park as advertised and promised. They also need to use a local experienced contractor to do the work and keep the money in Fort Smith with local jobs and local business. It puzzles me that certain city leaders tell the citizens of the city to shop with local business and then the County and City Leaders do business with a suspect out of state contractor and ignore a experienced local ...>> Read the entire comment.

Hey there alright now gimme 20 20 202025 30

I first noticed many many years ago that our local bidding methods might need a tad bit of scrutiny at least at some point in the entire process. A tractor with the specifics narrowed down so much probably only one company could supply it was listed for purchase. Just like a cat houses, some things can happen here for quite awhile..and there's u$ually a reason for it. Here it is years later and a department head (Don't we pay someone to be a purchasing agent?) lets a $160K design project on jogging trail go out to an acquaintance with no bids whatsoever with the hope we are all so stupid we'll believe no one else in town could do it. Now the granddaddy of them all (that we've been informed of at least), talking to 1 company about building a water park and very much preferring to cut things out rather than to to take a chance on having to ditch the highest bidder?? To me if you're from out of town you have to be as good or better in addition to being substantially cheaper or it's a no go from the beginning. What better place do we have to start not acting like a small town than with our local governments themselves?

going back to the very beginning

There is another option worthy of consideration. At the very beginning of it all, two concepts were presented to the people. To quote The City Wire's 1/25/10 article,"The first concept could cost about $4.75 million, with a projected operating budget of $540,463 and projected revenue of $415,250, leaving an expected annual operating loss of $125,213. This proposal will serve 815, and is based on the county being solely responsible for construction and operation." As much as the interlocal agreement concept was hailed at the beginning, at this juncture, what I like best about Concept #1 is the last phrase in the quote. All parties win, even Mr. Settle who originally quoted the cost of an aquatic center at around $2.5M, he will get twice as much as originally conceived.
There is another option worthy of consideration. At the very beginning of it all, two concepts were presented to the people. To quote The City Wire's 1/25/10 article,"The first concept could cost about $4.75 million, with a projected operating budget of $540,463 and projected revenue of $415,250, leaving an expected annual operating loss of $125,213. This proposal will serve 815, and is based on the county being solely responsible for construction and operation." As much as the interlocal agreement concept was hailed at the beginning, at this juncture, what I like best about Concept #1 is the last phrase in the quote. All parties win, even Mr. Settle who ...>> Read the entire comment.

The Hudson Water Park

Possibly built by criminals at a cost that is out of control and nobody seems to know how much the cost of admission will be for the people that will pay for the park. What else could go wrong?

The 6 P's of Good Projects

There appears to be some serious flaws in accounting skills of the people adding up all the cumulative spending at city hall because all projects seem to come in way over budget and they are always short of funds to afford a ride on the dream wagon. Prior--Planning--Prevents--Piss--Poor--Projects.

Settle Conceived

If lap puppy Settle got what he really deserved, there would be dancing in the streets because the garbage would be back in the alley where it belongs.