Public works building proves to be pricey

The town of Ocean View is gearing up for its Public Safety Building Open House on Sept. 19, complete with recognition and acknowledgements from special guests state Rep. Gerald Hocker, Sussex County Councilman George Cole and state Sen. George Howard Bunting. Gov. Ruth Ann Minner and State Attorney General Joseph “Beau” Biden will also be in attendance to share words during the ceremony.

The event promises to be quite a show. However, like most things in this small Sussex town, everything comes with its price: $10,000 to be exact, encompassing food, seating and shelter, invitations, photography, plaques and seals, and complimentary mugs for the event. Costs for seals for the town hall, lapel pins, flags and newspaper invitations are also factored into the price.

The ceremony will begin at 10 a.m. with the presentation of the colors by the Indian River Junior ROTC cadets and the Delaware State Police bagpiper. To bring some “local flair” to the ceremony, a Lord Baltimore elementary class will lead guests in the Pledge of Allegiance and a moment of silence, recognizing Auxiliary Patrolman Wallace Melson, who lost his life in the line of duty with the Ocean View Police Department in 1971, as well as other fallen officers.

The Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce will lead in the ribbon-cutting ceremony. All state politicians have been invited, including Sen. Tom Carper and Biden’s father, Sen. Joe Biden.

The event, though costly, is only the tip of the iceberg when the town takes a look at the building from a distance. Unanticipated costs are coming around much more quickly than the town can account for them.

“Even after this period of time, [Financial Advisor Lee Brubaker] and I keep discovering invoices that had not been recorded that are now being recorded into the system,” said Town Manager Conway Gregory. The original budget for the building was $2.2 million, set aside for the structure alone. Of that, $2,140,488.91 had been spent on the construction, leaving roughly $59,000 in the positive column.

However, several aspects and modifications had not been factored into the budget. The telephone security systems, originally budgeted at $100,000, later amended at $25,850 was actually budgeted at $148,750.19, which accounts for overspending of nearly $50,000 on the original budget. As for the $70,000 budgeted for furniture, the spending actually totaled $93,942.71, accounting for another $24,000 deficit.

Along with updates in the computer system, including software and hardware, the total cost of the building to date sits at roughly $2,418,652. In all, the total original approved budget, encompassing everything, was $2,422,000. As a result, the town sits at a positive $3,347 for the building’s budget.

“That’s the good part,” said Gregory. “The bad part is we still have remaining items, and these are projected costs.”

Included in these expenditures are sidewalks, locked in at $1,200, interior and exterior signage, estimated at $2,369 (reduced with a grant awarded by the county, chopping the cost from its original price of $5,100), and the enclosure of the building’s generator, fixed at $3,540.

Two inspection tests of the generator totaling $2,000, plus a “conservative estimate” of an irrigation system running near $10,000 have also been tacked on, as well as payment for Willow Construction’s project manager.

“Assuming that all of the items are concrete (including the estimated $10,000 for the building’s opening ceremony],” said Gregory, “and again, they can fluctuate, I’m estimating that we have $36,834 in remaining items to get this project complete.”

It’s hard to pinpoint a final number for the total project.

“Brubaker and I,” said Gregory, “I believe, have yet to discover all of the hidden costs associated with the building. There may be another smoking gun that pops up as we continue our research. Also, I can’t say that these numbers are set in stone. I can say with fair accuracy this evening, and I regret to say this to you, I don’t think we’ll be at $50,000 or below. I think we’ll be over.”

Conway added that he’s not pointing fingers at any party in particular and means no disrespect, though it’s difficult to get a handle on what the town has spent on the project.

“We have not treated the citizens’ money right if we don’t know ahead of time what we’re spending the money on,” said Councilman Roy Thomas. “[Brubaker and Gregory] are fairly new to the board. I’m not criticizing them. I just don’t understand in a situation where you have purchase orders and accountability, and things get signed off properly.

“There should be record-keeping,” he said. “I’m criticizing us as a town that we don’t have the financial controls in place. I find that disturbing. I also find it disturbing that we’re spending $10,000 on a dedication, but I don’t know how you do it any other way.”

He also commented on financial costs of the upcoming drainage plan for the town.

“Our financial situation has deteriorated because we now find that we will have to spend a million dollars more for drainage than we had though in our five-year plan. We as a town know how to spend money. I don’t know if we know how to save money.”

Thomas admitted that he himself has to take a look his actions, as he has made motions to increase funding in some cases.

“It’s our fault as a town. We need to get a hold of our spending. We need to have controls in place. And we need to know where we are at against the budget.”