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.

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  • I remember Mayor Koch did a great job looking out for residents and making sure they were treated fairly. Anyone who takes the time to study Town records can read in the meeting minutes how he questioned every dollar spent. If he did raise taxes it was for very legitimate reasons. His leadership is the reason Gulf Stream became such a wonderful place to raise a family.

    Unfortunately the regime of incompetent posers who now pretend to lead us have taken our town on a Mad Hatter ride that includes spending great gobs of taxpayer money to cover up Officer Ginsberg’s bad behavior, Manager Thrasher’s abuses, and Mayor Morgan’s legal misadventures. Then there are the poorly managed Town projects that run over budget and behind schedule. And let us not forget the latest poorly crafted ordinances that, if not selectively enforced, make everyone in Town a rule breaker.

    I miss Mayor Koch and his leadership. I think many residents won’t consider any criticism of our current leaders because they assume Mayor Morgan must be following the successful policies of Mayor Koch’s administration. This is unfair to Mayor Koch’s legacy and undeservedly generous to Mr. Morgan. Isn’t it time to judge this current administration by its own actions and results? Our Town is heading into a fiscal inferno and all Mr. Morgan can come up with is to throw more wood on the fire. In true Lord Farquaad style, he blames the Town’s woes on unreasonable utility companies, litigious residents, uncaring legislators, who will he blame next - you? Residents can act soon or expect taxes to reach 7 or 8 mils in the near future. When that happens I will really be missing Mayor Koch. 

  • Maybe Mr. O'Hare would like to tell us how many times taxes were raised before Mayor Koch passed.
  • This is a great example of why more residents should be asking to inspect public records and coming to meetings to question Town leaders.

    Other Town’s do not seem to have this much trouble managing their utilities but under Mr. Morgan’s leadership this project has become so disruptive to the “Gulf Stream Lifestyle” that otherwise mild mannered and gentile elderly residents have publicly expressed their concern they may not live long enough to see the completion of a project they paid so much money for.

    But not to fear fellow residents, despite the project being grossly over budget and way behind schedule Mr. Morgan is now going to contact “the installer who is climbing up the pole to the chairman of the board.”  Well Mr. Morgan, no doubt Jim Robo is waiting to hear from you; his number is 561-691-7171. Please take notes of your conversation; I am sure a lot of residents would like to inspect THAT record.

     Nervous Mr. Ganger says all five commissioners feel like they are flying in a fog. I don’t recall those comments being expressed in a public meeting – must have been made in one of the secret meetings where all significant Town decisions are actually made.

    But if all looks gloomy don’t forget, as the Coastal Star is quick to point out, for two years in a row we have award winning leadership when it comes to presenting financial information  Too bad the actual financial management isn’t award winning.

    Will there be enough money to finish this project?  Not to worry, the Town has a limitless supply of funds. Taxes went up about 50% since Mayor Koch passed; water bills to residents have doubled and there is always long term bond debt to be had.  Plenty of money to throw at this project; unless of course the Town stops roadblocking all the lawsuits it will certainly loose when they eventually are allowed to come to trial. Now that is a financial tsunami even the Coastal Star won’t be able to sugar coat. 

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