By Dan Moffett
Gulf Stream commissioners are scrambling to squeeze costs out of their troubled underground utilities project and accelerate a construction schedule that threatens to drag on for at least another two years.
Mayor Scott Morgan said the town should consider taking drastic action to expedite the project’s completion — including perhaps hiring independent contractors to replace AT&T and Comcast crews.
“They cannot hold a town hostage,” Morgan said. “We can take matters into our own hands. At some point, there’s municipal rights.”
Morgan said he would personally talk with supervisors at Florida Power & Light, AT&T and Comcast to make the town’s case for an accelerated pace.
“I intend to contact absolutely everybody who’s involved in this project from the installer who’s climbing up the pole to the chairman of the board,” he said. “That’s the approach I’m going to take.”
Gulf Stream residents approved the plan to bury utility lines in 2011, but it took two years to start work on phase one because of delays getting design plans from FPL. In 2013, the town filed a complaint with the Florida Public Service Commission about FPL’s slow response. The complaint did little to prevent delays in phase two, with FPL again falling behind in producing plans.
While the project stalled, construction costs rose throughout South Florida and contractors who were once willing to bid on Gulf Stream’s work found other jobs. One potential bidder got involved with All Aboard Florida instead. Material costs rose, too.
What was conceived as a $5.5 million project six years ago now will cost significantly more to complete. But perhaps not as much more as commissioners once feared.
Danny Brannon, the town’s engineering consultant, brought some good news to an April 13 special meeting on the project. Brannon said he was able to find about $444,000 in cuts for the second phase, meaning that the original $2.8 million price tag for the work is likely to come in around $3.3 million — about $510,000 more than the town expected but not the nearly $1 million overrun that seemed likely weeks ago.
“We found considerable overestimating on the part of the contractor,” Brannon said, “and that brought some of the numbers down.”
Much of the potential savings comes from changing the conduit and connections for Comcast and AT&T. But commissioners said it was impossible for them to approve a bid for the power work that was submitted by Wilco Electric, until Comcast and AT&T confirm the estimates they gave years ago.
Vice Mayor Robert Ganger said he was “nervous going forward without those numbers,” and Commissioner Thomas Stanley said the commission was stuck until “we have baseline numbers from both parties.”
Commissioners hope to have those figures in their hands before the end of May and with them some clarity.
“The five of us feel like we’re flying in a fog and don’t even know where the ground is,” Ganger said. “It’s getting more and more frustrating for us, and it’s got to be getting more frustrating for the residents.”
Town Manager William Thrasher said the town has hired Gary Resnick, a lawyer and mayor of Wilton Manors in Broward County, to assist Brannon in negotiating deadlines and costs with the utility companies.
• For the second year in a row, the Chicago-based Government Finance Officers Association honored the town with its Distinguished Budget Presentation Award, giving officials high marks for the budget as “a policy document, a financial plan, an operations guide (and) a communications device.” It is the only national awards program in government budgeting. The GFOA also again recognized Rebecca Tew, the town’s accountant, for her work on the budget.
By Dan Moffett