Mike Lawrence: Consultants cost city more than $1.3 million

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Mike Lawrence

Call Mike Lawrence at 871-4203 or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com.

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The future of Steamboat Springs Airport is the subject of two separate studies by consultants, totaling $316,000 in costs to the city. The Steamboat Springs City Council has spent more than $1.3 million on consultants since January 2006.

— The Steamboat Springs City Council has spent $1.38 million on consultants since January 2006. That's a big number.

Is it too big, or are these studies setting a foundation for thoughtful growth and city planning that will ultimately save taxpayer dollars - and Steamboat's sense of community - in the future?

The answer depends on whom you ask.

City Manager Alan Lanning arrived at the number earlier this month after creating a list of consultants and associated costs at the request of City Councilman Paul Strong.

"I had people saying to me, 'Can you guys do anything without a consultant?'" Strong said Tuesday.

The council has hired at least 18 consultants in the past 15 months, to study topics including a new recreation center, uses of Steamboat Springs Airport, economic development, urban design standards, downtown streetscape improvements, historic structures, affordable housing, local open space, sustainability management and a regional sports complex.

Strong requested the full list of consultants at a council meeting May 1. Lanning handed it to the council May 3 during a noon meeting where the council convened as the city's Liquor License Authority.

The consulting issue most recently arose with the city's $439,000 hire of Britina Design for a downtown streetscape study and engineering plan.

Jim Weber, the city's director of public works, said the downtown streetscape will be "the bulk of his work" for the next two years. He said Britina was hired because of the firm's experience designing improvements for Erie, Arvada and Eagle - improvements that are portrayed in a massive binder on Weber's desk. In flipping through the pages, it's hard not to get excited for the future of Lincoln Avenue and Oak and Yampa streets.

This kind of input and foresight seems logical given the stakes, but the question is where to draw the line.

"It seems to me we've done a lot of studies and spent a lot of money: That's a complaint about government at all levels," Strong said. "Of course the reality is, if you don't have good information to make decisions, people will second-guess you later on. In some ways, it's the nature of the beast."

Maybe the beast is different for Routt County or Craig.

Dan Strnad, the county's finance director, had a hard time Tuesday finding comparable numbers for the county's consultant hires.

"Right now, I'm having a hard time thinking of anything we have that would even fall into that category," Strnad said.

While the county has spent heavily for engineering and architectural consultants on projects such as the Routt County Justice Center and terminal expansion at Yampa Valley Regional Airport in Hayden, the city of Steamboat also has spent for engineering studies - an additional $1.32 million since January 2006.

Lanning put those figures into another category in his list. Base area redevelopment studies, planning and legal counsel tally an additional $1.52 million for the city.

Adding the three categories means the city has spent more than $4.2 million on all kinds of consultants since January 2006.

Strnad said that in a quick, cursory look, he could not find any county-hired consultants that fell into what he called "the wishy-washy category" of future planning.

The only example Strnad found was Vision 2030, a public policy study funded by $38,500 each from the city and county. Vision 2030 is not on Lanning's list, likely because it is a group of local citizens rather than a non-local consultant.

In Craig, City Manager Jim Ferree said the city this year is funding an $80,000 transportation study, an $8,400 community survey and a $15,000 evaluation of the city's pool system.

Craig has spent more than $1 million since 2006 for consulting on upgrades to the Craig Wastewater Treatment Plant, but those funds fall into the engineering category.

Ferree noted that Craig's total budget is about $13 million, far less than Steamboat's projected 2007 expenditures of more than $47 million.

Strong said the studies are worthwhile if they are used for their intended purpose.

"To me, the issue isn't so much what the number is as (opposed to) what are you accomplishing," Strong said. "If you're going to commission a study, then you better know what you're going to do with it when the results come in."

Comments

another_local 6 years, 10 months ago

Time for a new city council. I vote we keep Paul for being the only one that knows what question to ask.

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beentheredonethat 6 years, 10 months ago

Adding the three categories means the city has spent more than $4.2 million on all kinds of consultants since January 2006.

If the current city employees and city council, hired and elected to do the people's work, do not have the capacity to fulfill this obligation, then it is high time to seek more qualified individuals.

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boatski 6 years, 10 months ago

Hey - I have an idea, let's hire a consultant to see if this city council has a clue about what they are doing!

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WZ4EVER 6 years, 10 months ago

I think an interesting issue that Mike should have investigated is what this Council has DONE with these studies...seems to me that if they disagree, they ignore them. Have any of the ideas etc that these studies have suggested ever been implemented? Mike -did you get a list of what studies etc the City has commissioned? Could there be a follow-up?

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phidgt 6 years, 10 months ago

@WZ4EVER Exactly the comment I wanted to make. City Council throws these amazing amounts of money at these consultants who then give those same members their findings and suggestions and then what? Here's my guess: City Council then sits on their butts ignoring all of the information and then when they decide to act they have to redo the study, hire more consultants and then the cycle just continues. Do I sound a bit angry? I am actually furious. City Council sat around twiddling their thumbs on the whole Community Center project, whining about the cost. They seem to have found nearly half a million $s laying around. Now the library wants to start their project which means that the community center has to be vacated next week. City Council also dragged their feet on finding the seniors a temporary home and now they have nowhere to go. When you are 90 years old and having lunch down at the center is your only form of socializing it's a pretty big deal. I, unfortunately (or fortunately), do not live within City limits and therefore can't vote for council members. I am begging the good folks who can vote to NOT re-elect these people. I would also like to make a request of anyone who may have a little spare time next week. Adopt a senior. They are the real losers for City Council's ineptitude. Rt Cty Council on Aging 879-0633

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Mike Lawrence 6 years, 10 months ago

WZ: There will be a follow-up, but I can't guarantee when. I agree that there are more issues to be explored, including what other comparable, growing resort communities spend on consultants and how other communities use similar studies. Phidgt: The Council on Aging has a temporary home, the Celebrity Resorts restaurant on High Point Drive. I wrote about it recently, and will supply the link in a post below.

Mike Lawrence, reporter Steamboat Pilot & Today (970) 871-4203 mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com

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WZ4EVER 6 years, 10 months ago

SBVOR: Have you read the study that was done to justify the housing linkage ordinance? Some great wizardry with the numbers but I can't imagine that Council understood any of it. The Aspen example is good - if we adopt the plan that Council is considering now, we'll be the same. I have heard comments that its "better than doing nothing". I disagree - those 95% of employees who don't get the welfare housing handed to them will pay A LOT more than if we did nothing. Remember the "we had to destroy the village to save it" Viet Nam-era comment? Now we saying that we had to raise the cost of housing so more people could afford it.

Sorry to digress from the issue in this thread.....

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another_local 6 years, 10 months ago

Oh Yes, let's follow the examples of Aspen and Telluride. Do you think it is coincidence that those are the two places with the highest housing costs in the state?

BTW sbvor, I am glad to see that there are places where we agree. This is one of them.

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JQPUBLIC 6 years, 10 months ago

Ever wonder if the council might be trying to turn stmbt into another aspen... they could sell out and laugh all the way to the bank.

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thecondoguy1 6 years, 10 months ago

I am not dead, just lurking, there is some good dialog here......... keep it going on the affordable housing, I love it, you people are smart, there is some good thinking goin on here.

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CindyMaddox 6 years, 10 months ago

MIke - Thank you for putting this in the public eye. These costs - and this type of indecisive leadership are a disaster for Steamboat. Can we hurry and have the Council election sooner?

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dundalk 6 years, 10 months ago

What a shame that City Council can plow through millions and yet we can't afford to offer our police officers a pay raise: A raise that would ensure that we don't lose officers because they can't afford to live in the very city they are sworn to protect.

How's that Lazy Boy recliner Towny? Are you comfy?

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phidgt 6 years, 10 months ago

Mike, Thank you for your post. I wasn't clear on the temporary location for the seniors. Yes, the city has found them a temporary home, However, it isn't ready and the seniors's last day down at the community center is this Thursday. They also have nowhere to go for all of next week and it is unknown when the temporary site will be ready. Sorry if this is off-topic.

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thecondoguy1 6 years, 10 months ago

sbvor, do not worry about the "topic" your vivid thinking and and clear, references make for refreshing reading, it's like,,,,sombody is sane, there is hope, write it where and when you can..... thanks.

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Tim Kjera 6 years, 10 months ago

The city of Aspen has so much money to throw away, they just hired a Director of Global Warming to address problems like affordable housing down-valley. No mention was made of the conspicuous consumption that goes on there or the pollution created by private jets of the rich and famous. I guess global warming is only an issue for the poor people living down-valley. Can Steamboat be far behind?

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Hammurabi 6 years, 10 months ago

If your really interested, you might call the planning office and find out what your new fees would be if you either add on to your private residence or just do a remodel. You would be astounded! When I asked the planner I chatted with told me that so far no one has uttered a word about the linkage on residental units. These fees even occur if you're doing the work yourself. If you're even thinking about doing something to you house, I urge you to do it now before this passes, otherwise, you won't be able to afford it.

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trollunderthebridge 6 years, 10 months ago

For those of you who belong to the Chamber, you should take the time to fill out the survey they emailed out to members looking to get an opinion on what the citizens and business owners actually think. Something the City Council never would think of or even do! May not be the best survey, but at least someone is even taking the time to ask!

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