City projects with budget overruns & delays: Would a new oversight committee help?

A tumultuous City Council meeting this afternoon (Seattle Channel video added above) included a passionate packed house at City Hall opposing the proposed Seattle Police North Precinct project, currently proposed at $149 million, $61 million over a previous estimate (page 10, here), nicknamed “The Bunker” by those who want it scrapped. The council didn’t kill it, but didn’t give it final approval, either. Earlier in the day, this and other recent overbudget and/or behind-schedule projects led our area’s Councilmember Lisa Herbold and one a colleague to propose a new oversight committee. Here’s their announcement:

Councilmembers Rob Johnson and Lisa Herbold called for creation of a special Council committee to oversee City-funded capital projects following recent capital expenditures that exceeded initial budgets, including the North Precinct Police Station, the downtown waterfront Seawall, and the New Customer Information System which handles billing issues at the City’s utility departments.

Councilmember Lisa Herbold (District 1, West Seattle & South Park) said, “It’s been frustrating when large projects go millions over budget, or are years behind schedule – such as Fire Station #32 in the West Seattle Junction. In creating this committee, Councilmembers can more closely monitor large projects, so we’re not faced with no-win options when presented with updates late in the process.”

The Council Capital Projects Oversight Committee would share characteristics with capital oversight best practices, such as the Sound Transit Capital Committee oversight process, which creates a series of systematic check-ins as projects progress, both through planning and construction. The Council committee’s oversight work would establish a baseline level of transparency to help ensure City capital projects remain on budget and the public remains informed along the way.

Councilmember Rob Johnson (District 4, Northeast Seattle) said, “‘Transparency’ should be the name of the game as we develop our capital facilities. As Sound Transit develops their projects, staff seeks Board authorization at eight points throughout the process, including for preliminary engineering, final design, and baseline budget, which includes total project costs and construction. As a Seattle City Councilmember, I expect the public to hold me accountable for delivering our capital projects on time and within budget, but we need the tools necessary for proper oversight. If City facilities are projected to run over-budget, the Council should have plenty of lead time to develop alternatives or contingencies.”

The Council receives annual reports on all City capital investments, but they can be of limited utility because of the volume of information provided. A Council Capital Projects Oversight Committee would likely identify characteristics of projects they wanted to review, including large projects or projects that are at least 10% over initial budgets.

Councilmembers will work with their colleagues to develop oversight committee legislation for introduction at a later date.

Herbold’s comment refers to the new West Seattle fire station that, as we first reported last fall, is running more than 9 years behind the original schedule. Construction of the new Fire Station 32 in The Junction finally began with demolition four months ago; the original estimate, with the 2003 fire levy that funded it, was for a 2007 completion – now, it’ll be 2017.

21 Replies to "City projects with budget overruns & delays: Would a new oversight committee help?"

  • KT August 15, 2016 (6:58 pm)

    Good idea.  Another good idea is to hold people responsible, if necessary, when projects go over budget and drag on and on beyond estimated completion dates.  SDOT might not like this idea!

    • Mike August 15, 2016 (10:35 pm)

      they typically time it for when they’ll be out of the position that was responsible or they’re on their way to another government job outside the city, like in D.C.  *looking at you Ron Sims!*

  • flimflam August 15, 2016 (7:13 pm)

    yeah, really, in a city that has grown as much as seattle why would we need to upgrade/staff higher numbers of officers? this council is ridiculous.

  • The Truth August 15, 2016 (8:17 pm)

    The business acumen of the council themselves is not going to help this situation.  Nothing fixes construction schedules like meetings being called by non subject matter experts.  I am all for accountability, fire people who poorly manage projects.  Don’t let more people with no experience get involved.

  • smokeycretin9 August 15, 2016 (8:32 pm)

    Why not add a few more $100k jobs to the city roster?   Heck, maybe we could have an oversight committee for the oversight committies?

    • chemist August 15, 2016 (10:55 pm)

      From the wording of this announcement, it would be a city council committee, like all those other standing city council committees made up of different mixes of our elected councilmembers.

      http://www.seattle.gov/council/committees

  • Pete August 15, 2016 (9:14 pm)

    Why should the council have to add another committee to over see this? Don’t these projects already fall under the scope of an existing committee? Maybe the budget committee should do a better job at tracking projects that the council approves.

  • Junction Lady August 15, 2016 (9:22 pm)

    Community leaders need to make decisions instead of dithering.

    • Mike August 15, 2016 (10:37 pm)

      that requires work, you know how the old saying goes “good enough for government work”

  • TheKing August 15, 2016 (10:02 pm)

    Oversight committee translates to hit the voting booth for a change. 

  • d August 16, 2016 (7:36 am)

    if you say it’s going to cost a certain amount and it actually cost more you should be the one that has to pay that extra

    • Nancy Folsom August 16, 2016 (8:25 am)

      @D 
      if you say it’s going to cost a certain amount and it actually cost more you should be the one that has to pay that extra”

      That’s easy to say, but harder to put into practice. Who is “you?” Sometimes that us, as taxpayers, when it’s a city entity. And if it’s a private entity, they may not be responsible for the cost overruns. 

  • Nancy Folsom August 16, 2016 (7:39 am)

    There isn’t already a council committee that should be watching budget items? Wouldn’t the budget committee already be tasked with this? 

  • Peter August 16, 2016 (7:40 am)

    Another layer of city bureaucracy? Sure, why not. Let the Seattle Process roll on!

  • Rick August 16, 2016 (8:27 am)

    Why can’t the people we pay to do their jobs do their  ‘effing jobs?

  • CanDo August 16, 2016 (12:00 pm)

    These projects have project managers, most of whom are degreed and hired for their supposed competency, do they not?   Why aren’t the project managers managing their assigned projects to meet budget and timelines?  That’s part of a project manager’s job.  Another layer of degreed and supposed competent managers to provide oversight for the already working degreed and supposed competent project managers seems like excessive bloated government layers.

  • AceMotel August 16, 2016 (12:26 pm)

    yes, what Cando said.   If “oversight” is not part of the current staffing structure, we have a real problem.

  • d August 16, 2016 (12:52 pm)

    Whoever bid the job ding dong

  • AH Rez August 16, 2016 (2:25 pm)

    More lip service from City Hall to make Seattle sheeple–I mean voters–feel like there is someone in city hall that actually cares what you think.   They do not.  These levy-approved projects are sold to us on the ballot at 60-75% of the actual cost (and they know it),  so the good liberal lemmings will toe the party line and approve them (over-and-over-and-over again).  Well done Seattle voters, you got what you voted for!  You know, except for Equality when it comes to who actually pays for the overruns (looking at you, dirty capitalist homeowners!!!)

  • Mark August 16, 2016 (8:22 pm)

    The City needs an overhaul.  Why can’t the City live with a budget most people live in a budget.  I like filet mignon but have learned to make hamburger work.  

    With police princinct why not reduce employee parking to zero like they allow for apartment buildings?   Oh my bad the City provides its employees ample parking but when it comes to everyone else no parking.

    The City identified a budget of what $89,000,000.  Thus the architect/engineer and owner (taxpayer) need to scale back the facility to available budget.

    And the City already is layered with to much beaucracy.  

      

  • Bob August 16, 2016 (10:54 pm)

    Seattle will vote for anything.  Wish I could move but my job is here.  We r making this place unaffordable.  

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