Manor $1.7 Million Over Original Budget

BLYTHEWOOD – Members of Town Council spent the better part of a four-hour work session last week trying to put a fine point on how much the Town has paid for constructing and furnishing the new town park and Doko Manor. It also suggested setting up a reserve fund for repairs and maintenance expenses of the Manor.

According to a report prepared by the Town’s financial consultant, CPA Kem Smith, and presented to the Council by Interim Town Administrator Jim Meggs, the direct costs, so far, to construct the Doko Park and Doko Manor add up to roughly $7.2 million, not the $5.5 million originally planned. And 30 years of interest payments will eventually add another $3 million to the total cost of the park. Additional funding over the $5.5 million came from the $1.5 million sale of the community center.

Smith’s report shows a balance of $100,000 left in the park fund. But the projects that are completed and not yet paid for (rest rooms, sod for the athletic field, irrigation and dumpster enclosures) add up to about $230,000 according to information Meggs said he received from former Town Councilman Paul Moscati who oversaw the work on the park for the Town for the last two years.

“That’s going to leave the Town in the hole about $130,000,” Councilman Bob Mangone said.

Councilman Tom Utroska summed Council’s predicament up by saying, “There is no money left to build any of the other structures initially planned for the park including the amphitheater, spray ground, farmer’s market, activity center/soccer complex, skate park, clock tower, an additional playground area, the final layer of asphalt on the park roads and other amenities.”

Construction of some of these features were dependent on an additional general obligation bond Council initially passed for the park in the summer of 2010, but which was later rescinded by Council after the voters presented a petition calling for a referendum on the bond.

Of the $600,000 paid to Rick McMakin’s Land Plan Group, Inc. for design fees for the park, $130,611.22 was spent for designs for a soccer/recreational complex that never materialized. Smith’s listing of direct costs for the park also included $489,508 for bond issuance costs and legal fees.

Meggs told Council that, beginning in 2013, the Town began making direct transfers that totaled $1,398,100 from the Town’s general fund to the project fund to pay for park features.

“Basically, what we were doing,” Meggs said, “was taking general fund monies and fattening the project fund that would otherwise have drawn its money out of the bond proceeds.”

Massa noted that it was an unusual situation to issue a revenue bond, then set the debt service up with general fund money.

As conversation around the table turned to the over-budget costs of the Manor, Massa, a CPA, lost his cool.

“Oh that’s good!” he said. “We overran a project by 30 percent and lied to the people of Blythewood about it. The original project was promised to cost $5.5 million, then we put in another $1.5 million from the sale of the community center that we thought was going to be used to pay off bonds and do other things.”

Mayor J. Michael Ross, during whose term the manor was constructed (though it was approved by the former Council just weeks before Ross and Councilmen Jeff Branham and Roger Hovis took office), defended the project saying, “However many people come and tell you they are upset that we’ve spent this much, they come to me and say they love the Manor. The people ahead of us built a Manor that turned in to our community center. The park was only $5.5 million from the beginning. The Manor added $2.1 million. If we are over budget, it was that we had a $1.5 million sale of the community center and a $2.1 million Manor was built. If you look at the park alone, how much are we off from the bond and the money we got?”

“We should not have commingled the money (bond and community center sale,)” Massa argued.

Utroska agreed, saying, “It was commingled because the prior group decided they were going to build a $2.1 million building and they only had $1.5 million. Many of the original (structures) planned for the park weren’t built because we used some of that money on the Manor. I argued four years ago against spending $5.5 million on a park. If you look back at documents from 2001, the idea for a nice park in Blythewood was picnic tables and swings. When it’s all said and done, we have the park and Manor and we can’t undo that. Now I’m concerned about the maintenance and operating expenses.”

Massa agreed, saying, “To the people who say (the Manor) is beautiful and lovely, it’s going to be beautiful and lovely for about five years if we don’t have the money to repair and maintain it.”

Mangone accused the former Council of diverting funds to build the Manor and said he thought someone should be held accountable.

“But I’m not ready to throw anybody in jail. We could spend more on legal fees to hold people accountable,” he said, backing down from his threat. “But I think everyone should know (what happened.)” He added, “It was touted, ‘Oh, everything is great,’ and it really wasn’t.”

“The only conclusion we can finally draw until we have the final numbers is that we don’t have any money left (for the park) and will have to take money from somewhere else to finally pay for all this,” Massa lamented.

Utroska added, “And if you add what the Manor is costing us in addition to this, it gets plum scary.”

Massa suggested passing a resolution in the upcoming budget meeting to set aside a percentage of the Town’s Hospitality Tax funds for a reserve for repairs and maintenance.

“Then, right off the top, that (Hospitality Tax) money goes away,” Massa said.

Massa said that means those in the community who traditionally request ‘x’ amount of hospitality funds for events “may get something less than ‘x.’ next time.”

In other business, Council discussed the need to set goals for 2014-15 and the status of filling employment vacancies in the Town Hall. While Council discussed in executive session the hiring of a new town clerk, they did not vote to fill the vacancy. Mangone announced that nine people have applied for the town administrator’s position, but Council continued to be unsure exactly what they are looking for in the position – whether they want someone with both administrative and zoning/planning experience or two separate employees. Mangone asked Council to consider the possibility of helping bring social service and mental health programs to the town. Council members agreed that would be a good idea. The mayor asked Massa to work with the Town’s CPA to come up with a preliminary budget for the next workshop to be held on Tuesday, April 15, starting at 9 a.m.

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