City Manager Answers Your Bond Fund Questions

Yesterday, many of you wondered openly why the city was asking about additional bond funding for Decatur Fire Station 1 and the Rec Center in a new Open City Hall question, when renovations to those facilities were also covered under the previous bond referendum.

City Manager Peggy Merriss responded this morning with this statement.

1. Improvements to Fire Station No. 1 were included in the 2007 bond issue.

In estimating what we would need for renovations to Fire Station Number 1 and rebuilding fire Station Number 2 for the total amount of funding, we estimated replacing the existing 2400sf Fire Station No. 2 with a new 2400sf Fire Station No. 2. Instead, in order to provide for placement of two pieces of fire equipment, to provide separate personal areas for each firefighter so that male and female firefighters could have some privacy in sleeping arrangements and bathroom facilities, and to provide alternative emergency management capabilities, Fire Station No. 2 is a 4800sf building. In the end, it cost about double our estimate because it was double the size.

The balance of the public safety funds have been used to design and produce construction documents for Fire Station No. 1. The cost of construction of that facility is currently estimated at $3million. We have submitted a grant application to FEMA for federal stimulus funding for the project but have not had a response.

2. Improvements to the Decatur Recreation Center were also included in the 2007 bond issue.

Recreation improvement funds included rebuilding McKoy Pool, rebuilding the Glenlake bathhouse and improvements to Glenlake Park, the Decatur Recreation Center and purchase of greenspace. Everything has been completed with the exception of Glenlake Park and the Decatur Recreation Center (DRC). We are hoping that the final improvements at Glenlake Park will be completed by the end of June, 2010 (weather allowing). We have completed the DRC master plan and are in the process of completing construction documents and we are currently estimating that the renovations would cost $5million. We have done some repairs and maintenance to the gutter and downspout system at DRC. The recreation portion of the bond funds will be exhausted shortly.

It is really important to note that the $32million in proceeds from the 2007 bond issue was basically an amount that was perceived to be acceptable to the community in terms of adding one mill of additional taxes. This was in addition to the existing .54 mills that was already being levied. The City received $16million from that issuance – and while the budgets were decent estimates for basic renovations, we knew that the amount was not sufficient to meet all the capital needs.

The City does not have a current on-going source of revenue for capital expenditures. The City’s projects have been extremely modest and have capitalized on using resources from others to help us extend our capital dollar. The projects we have completed were badly needed and were built with long-term maintenance and operations costs in mind so that the facilities should last at least another 50 years without significant reconstruction.

63 thoughts on “City Manager Answers Your Bond Fund Questions”

  1. Merris above:

    “In estimating what we would need for renovations to Fire Station Number 1 and rebuilding fire Station Number 2 for the total amount of funding, we estimated replacing the existing 2400sf Fire Station No. 2 with a new 2400sf Fire Station No. 2. Instead, in order to provide for placement of two pieces of fire equipment, to provide separate personal areas for each firefighter so that male and female firefighters could have some privacy in sleeping arrangements and bathroom facilities, and to provide alternative emergency management capabilities, Fire Station No. 2 is a 4800sf building. In the end, it cost about double our estimate because it was double the size.”

    Did we not have male and female firefighters in 2007? What equipment has been unexpectedly added since that time?

    None of this is new, how is it possible that it COULD NOT HAVE BEEN FORSEEN AT THE TIME?

    Merris admits: “we knew that the amount was not sufficient to meet all the capital needs”

    Oddly enough, that was not mentioned at the time of the previous referendum.

    I wonder why?

    This is not the first time the City or for that matter the CSD has left me feeling that relevant information has been strategically omitted and it leaves me with one of two perceptions:

    Either Merris et al perceives the Decatur electorate as children who can not make a rational decision based on full and complete information.


    They are afraid that given complete information we will make a rational decision – it just won’t be the decision that they desire.

    In either case I feel that I am being manipulated.

    I voted yes previously on the basis that whether I agreed with the process or not, Decatur needed the results of the referendum.

    You can put me down now as a SOLID NO VOTE.

    The perception of integrity and degree that I am willing to extend the benefit of the doubt to our current slate of elected officials and the City Manager has been substantially reduced in my personal oppinion.

    I expect to be heartilly flamed for these observations – bring-em on. I can take it. I know our officials and city employees are basically nice people who mean nothing but the best.

    I am also, though I’m sure it doesn’t sound like it, quite sure that I couldn’t do better in that job – however I did not run for office or claim to be a professional City Manager.

    Based on Merris’ comments above and the information that was published with the previous referendum, if Peggy and the others worked for me, I’d be looking for their replacements.

    1. A couple thoughts from a slightly different perspective…

      Fully detailed costs aren’t possible without fully detailed specs. At the time of the bond, it was known we needed a replacement fire station in Oakhurst but it was not known exactly what that station would be (the requirements gathering process and architectural designs established those, and they were funded by the bond money). Given that lack of details, estimating on the basis of comparable square footage seems reasonable.

      After the bond was passed, the fire station project began, and was inclusive of a collaborative community process. Anyone who wanted to could participate in the design process, together with our fire safety staff and, in the process, have opportunity to advocate for smaller size or, conversely, hear straight from the Fire Chief why a larger size was warranted.

      In other words, they could become informed and have their concerns known.

      Long story short, the design that emerged was driven by an open process. Granted, not everyone is pleased by every decision andI have no issue with you being frustrated at the outcome but, to me, you seem to suggest either willful deception or incompetence on the part of the city. I just don’t see it.

      1. I vastly prefer not to be unhappy with how the City is doing things (especially since my tax bill arrived today). And I completely understand the difficulty of estimating costs accurately in the absence of full specifications. Everything Scott says makes sense. Nevertheless, this feels a bit like a bait-and-switch to me, too. (I’m not saying it’s been intentional, or the result of managerial incompetence. But I do believe what we have here is a failure to communicate.)

        I distinctly remember one reason given by the City for the desperate need to replace Fire Station No. 2 was the absence of accommodations for male and female personnel. So the y knew that much needed to be different between the old facility and the new. Once the bond was passed, I had no interest in participating in the design process for the new building. Open and collaborative processes are great, but it was certainly never my understanding that we voters needed to oversee that particular process. And I don’t remember hearing anything about the fact that the new station wound up twice as big and twice as expensive as anticipated. Not until now, that is.

        I don’t think it’s asking too much to request a full accounting at this point, project by project, of what has been accomplished with the money from the last bond, before we start hearing about the next one. Otherwise, voters can hardly be expected to have reasoned opinions.

        Regardless of why communication has not been adequate, I’m not inclined to untie the purse strings again until I have more information–and the confidence that information will continue to be forthcoming without us having to nag for it.

      2. Sorry, Scott;
        I don’t want to challenge you on the details of the design process for fire station #2 as I did not participate in that. However, I am a commercial architect by profession and know that not only is it possible, it is quite normal to have accurate price information without a completed design – we do it all the time. Given the program (wish list) for the building it is a simple matter to determine the number of square feet required, the construction type, and some very basic assumptions and get within 10%. If you do this right, knowing that your margin of error is 10%, you add a 10% contingency and can sit back very comfortable in the knowledge that the worst case is covered and you may come in with as much as a 20% savings.

        The problem with this particular budget is not that the number of doors was not precisely known, it is that the scope of the program for the project doubled which of course doubled the price. Construction budgets are actually quite easy right now and with the economy the way it has been, had the project been managed in any sort of an even semi-professional manner, you would see that the project coming in at 75-80% of the budgeted cost. I am seeing $30 million dollar projects being bid and awarded for $24 million. Coming in under budget right now is like falling off a log.

        It sounds like 4800 S.F. is probably the right size for the station. How is it that it was budgeted and bonded for 2400 S.F.? The number of pieces of equipment that the department operates didn’t change from ’07 til now. We had male and female fire fighters then as well as now. SO what changed. Either it doubled for no good reason or it was half the size it should have been for no good reason.

        I think that my taxes and I deserve a good reason – don’t you?

        I don’t know (nor do I need to know) whether it is incompetence, or mis-management, or simply the thrill of purchasing things with a budget that one thinks will always be replenished by the citizens of Decatur, or what the motivation was in this case – but I pay for better decisions, planning, and thought processes than this.

        The City describes this as “first general obligation debt for the city since 1955” – in managing this debt as they have , they have gone a long way toward insuring it is 2055 before they get a second bite at the apple.

        My conclusion remains the same.
        Based on what I have heard so far, I trust the City with bond money about as far as I can spit a snake.
        My vote is NO.

    2. Do you really think Ms. Merris cooked up this underhanded plot in order to get our approval of a firestation. It’s a firestation!
      It doesn’t seem unreasonable to initially base a replacement structure on the dimensions of the previous structure. Yes there’s some fault in not including new equipment and personel needs in the initial estimate but that hardly falls in the sinister plot category.

      I’m all about getting infrastructure built while construction costs are down. And size it for future needs. Let’s do it.

      1. With planning of the caliber we have seen. We are better off NOT doing it.

        Here is one reason why. (Wanna bet whether or not it has been considered?)

        The City keeps talking about annexing on the north side of town – current status is not known but the options are open and the issue seems to peek out every 6 to 9 months…

        Fire stations are located according to geographic areas. Our two stations actually sit closer together than would otherwise be optimum but since our town is only 4 square miles, it isn’t a problem.

        If we annex another 2 square miles on the north side as has been contemplated, Station 1 would need to be moved to be more centrally located in the northern fire district or else a 3rd station would need to be built.

        1. “Planning” is not without significant cost which is why it typically takes place after AFTER a project budget is approved. As a project engineer in the private sector, I do try to get my initial budgeting estimates within 10% and I’m lucky that my projects are very similiar and predictable.
          I think there is fault here for not making an initial survey (at least ask the chief) what a new station would need. However, I see no sinister plot.

          As for basing a new location to the North. It would be unsupportable to base a location change on rumors of annexation that perennially fails.

          1. Ridgelandistan,
            The plot doesn’t have to be sinister, just manipulative is enough.

            I don’t know where you get your clients, but mine have a pretty detailed proforma going in and a good handle on costs BEFORE they establish funding for a project. I don’t think I am unreasonable in the least to expect that from the City.

            As for relocating Fire Station #1, I will admit that I agree with you with this exception/observation. Unless or until the City states that annexation is completely off the table, it would NOT be good planning to ignore that POSSIBILITY.

            Either there is a plan for growth or there is not. If there is a chance that the fire station in a few years time will be determined to be in the wrong place, why make a substantial capital investment there now?

            Do you realize that the initial bond funding for BOTH stations was less than HALF of what they are ESTIMATING station 1 at now?!

            Don’t believe me?
            Here is the quote off the citiy’s website:
            “Public Safety: $1.4 Million in Bond Funding

            Bond funds for public safety projects will be focused on upgrading the two fire stations in the city of Decatur. Most of the funding will go toward constructing a new fire station to replace fire station 2 in the Oakhurst business district. A community stakeholders group will work with the city on this project and community input meetings will be scheduled.

            In addition to the reconstruction of fire station 2, the city will make improvements at fire station 1 on E. Trinity Place. Built in the 1950s with funds from Decatur’s last bond issue, fire station 1 needs interior renovations, including additional office and storage space, and has a number of deferred maintenance needs”

            I don’t know how much more planning like this I can afford.

  2. Scott
    If you don’t “see it”, does that mean it doesn’t exist?
    Skeptic makes some good points based on facts and I “see it”
    The facility size was underestimated by half what it should have been. 10% would be an acceptable industry variation. Somewhere, not saying where, there is incompetence, in my opinion.

    1. Has anyone realized that just because a building doubles in size it should not also double in price?

      1. AMB, that is not the point. The point is that the station should not have doubled in size. With just a little effort the City could have had the right size station figured into the referendum and stayed within the budget.

        When all of this came up, there was a whole lot of talk to make sure that there was something for everyone to make sure the initiative passed. That is part of the reason why everything form sidewalks to quiet crossings to the rec center to the oakhurst fire station etc. were included.

        So now the questions comes back.

        Did the City do an incompetent job of estimating these costs and therefore didn’t ask for enough money?


        Did the City simply have no clue as to how big a fire truck was and therefore needed more space once they measured one?


        Since this was a 50/50 split referendum with half the money going to the schools, did the city just take there share of the referendum and throw a bunch projects at it without a clue as to the total cost, counting on a (then) growing economy and citizen good will to make up the inevitable shortfall?

        If one needs a way to analyze this to form an opinion on what the likely answer is; I give you Glenlake Park Improvements.

        The City is saying that Station 1 and the police station desperately need work or replacement. Why then did they choose to do work on a park before the Fire Station? If they had done things the other way around, who would support a second bond referendum with additional taxes now in this economy?

        For that matter, they could have asked for any dollar figure in the ’06 referendum and included the police station at that time. Why were sidewalk and quite train crossings included but the police station left out?

        Again, if these people worked for me, they would be out the door by now. I pay for better decisions and better thought processes than what I am getting.

  3. I have to say that I agree that I had no idea that the fire station in Oakhurst would be twice as big and twice as costly, and I live right around the corner.

    I, too, got my tax bill today. Being without children (so far), the bond portion is tiny compared to the schools, but it’s still worth discussing. I voted for it without knowing it would double in price.

  4. My recollection is that CSD did have a time line that necessitated the odd referendum date. There was great expressed reluctance to even seek the bond as expressed by almost every Commissioner prior to their agreement to go forward with the referendum.

    It is further my recollection that the city projects were a cobbled together list of “gee-whiz” studies and needs assessments that were ten years old or better. Given the time frame and some of the issues that were talked about, such as the quiet zones being brought into the discussion, it was really difficult to see it any other way.

    The police station was specifically left off the list despite an almost explicit statement by the City Manager that something would need to be done about renovating or moving it. It seems as if the assurances offered by her were that there were plans as to what to do about it but that the City was not prepared to do anything about the police station at that time.

    There was also a question about funding a joint maintenance facility for the public works department and CSD to save both halves of the City government operating expenditures. Anyone know anything about progress on that issue?

    The bids for every park project and for fire station number two were all over the projected price as expected in the bond working documents. As for the transportation projects, other than design work and repainting streets, has there been any substantial construction to take place on transportation?

    The City Manager needs to do some explaining. The planning on the first projects for which bond funds were sought needs to be explained to the electorate. If this second appeal for bond money follows the path of the first, what else will be left on the table unfunded?

    Fool me once….

  5. I understand that estimating costs before the fact can be difficult but missing the mark by 100% is not acceptable.

    Time and time again CSD has been way off in their cost estimates, too. This goes back to the first expansions at Clairemont, Westchester and Winona back in the 1990s.

    I was among those residents who wanted to see the bond issue broken down into parts to allow us to express support for certain parts of the plans without endorsing all of it. Personally, I supported the renovations to DHS but felt we should be financially cautious and hold off on renovating the gyms at Renfroe and the Rec Center. I favored improvements to the fire stations but felt we should be frugal and hold off on park renovations. Unfortunately it was an all or nothing choice.

    The DHS master plan was quite detailed. It appears now that perhaps more time and study should have been put in to the plans for the fire stations. Perhaps we should done the public safety related work before renovating parks. If the money ran out then the park could wait . Does anyone know if the other parts of the bond work are on budget ?

    Yes, the Renfroe gym was bad, yes Glenlake had drainage problems but I know that my household can not afford to do everything we’d like to do all at one time. Decatur seems to want new, state of the art everything right now without giving enough thought to the cost.

    Whether intentional or not, the City has hit us with a bait and switch. This is upsetting especially when some parents have begun lobbying to raise taxes to save CSD from furloughs and other major budget cuts.

    Of course I want up to date facilities for public safety but where does it end ?

    1. Hi Fifi,
      I’m reminded of Cesar when discussing how to appease the citizens of Rome….

      Bread and Circuses

      1. On bread & circuses & appeasing….

        What I’d really like to know is how things went at the Skeptics’ dinner table last night!

        (from polls/taxes thread)

        1. Deanne,
          Thank you for asking. Dinner coversation was very agreeable – at least within our family. I know now the limit to which my wife wishes to give the city the benefit of the doubt. As it turns out, the city has now exceeded even my wife’s very charitable limits on the benefits of her doubts.

  6. When I moved here 25 yrs ago Decatur was considered far away from Atlanta and Buckhead. Now it is not. What has changed? Peoples’ perceptions. Now it is a desirable close in location and that perception won’t change. Decatur has arrived.

    I want a good police department and fire department. I want my garbage picked up. A good school system if we’re going to have one. A responsive government. We have all of this.

    I don’t want recreational services other than park spaces and ancillary services. At a rec center planning meeting I heard a resident say, “YMCA is so expensive, I want a work out room in the new rec center.” The meaning of that statement is loud and clear.

    The rec center should not be a replacement or competitor to YMCA or any other fitness facility. I think there is a limit on what taxpayers are responsible for.

    There are vital services and there are fluff services. Let the City Manager and staff break it down for us so we can decide what we want and don’t want. Generalized questions such as those on Open City Hall

    are not all that helpful or clear, but we all need to resond because they are being read and counted. The pro-tax contingent is leading in the poll at the moment.

    Perhaps it’s time to form a blog where concerned taxpayers can organize and hold the line on repeated calls for increased tax revenue from the city manager.

  7. I’m with Skeptic. No more debt. Decatur should have planned better. The Glenlake Park renovations are a waste of time and money. I went there the other day, and it just looks silly and over-planned. That was a lovely park just as it was.

    The renovation on the Square with the strange blue pillars that don’t match anything isn’t exactly the best thing I’ve ever seen either. The poor planning and delays surrounding that debacle were a huge strain on businesses down there.

    The whole city bond issue was rushed because they wanted to hop on the bandwagon with the school bond issue instead of planning properly and waiting for a separate bond referendum.

    I also didn’t appreciate the whole annexation push a couple of years ago (another very poorly planned initiative). I might be happy to support another bond (for the police department – not the rec center) if I could be assured that it would be planned properly. I think history shows that this will not be possible without some changes in city administration.

    Don’t get me wrong though. I love Decatur! I’m just sayin’.

    1. At the time, some of us questioned why so many projects were lumped into one bond referendum. The City said we needed to do that because of the high administrative and time costs of putting a bond issue on the ballot . If we separated the projects it would be expensive to have multiple ballot initiatives. The phrase is penny wise and pound foolish comes to mind……

      We have funds to pay staff to market the city, recruit business development and oversee festivals and historic preservation but we can’t hire people with proper background and experience to get it right on the detailed planning for major capital expenditures . I see this as a huge problem.

    2. I walked past Glenlake park the other day to take a look at progress. Could be wrong, but it doesn’t look like it will be ready by June to me. It doesn’t look all that much different than it did several months ago. And at the time I peeked in yesterday, there were about 4 workers there, all standing around doing nothing.

      1. It better be ready! There’s summer camps there this summer! If not, hope city commissioners have big backyards because my kids are signed up and I’m holding them to it! 🙂

        1. It may be; admittedly I am no expert on park construction. But in my uneducated opinion, a June opening looked pretty doubtful. Not all of the topsoil has been put into place, and there are no signs of any grass sprouting. Not all the sidewalks have been laid, etc. Maybe they plan to sod the entire thing, but that would cost a fortune.

          1. Mud camp is ok with me. Cancelling camp is not. In fact, I think some developmentally appropriate service projects as part of camp, e.g. learning about sowing grass seed and laying concrete is just fine. Just be prepared for some little handprints in the sidewalks!

  8. I’m worried about throwing out the baby with bath water with the baby being the truly special environment and schools we have here in Decatur and the bath water being tax increases that citizens feel reflect waste, or inadequate planning, or inadequate belt-tightening in management and administration. Many posters have identified areas of lower priority for city spending that they are unwilling to support with increased tax or bond dollars but also areas of need that they would indeed support. Similar discussions have occurred around CSD spending and cuts. But the problem is that elections are an either/or process and often divide us. A bunch of candidates are elected…or not. Then the elected officials appoint staff who do what they see fit and we citizens seem to lose input and influence at that point.

    Is there a way to use the bond and millage approvals as a point of influence? E.g. have a group of citizens band together and try to come up with some common ground–e.g. fire station, yes, but more park improvements, no, or cuts in bus transportation and certain administrative positions over teacher layoffs or a shorter school year. If they can come up with true common ground and some solid arguments, then more citizens might join them. A big enough group of citizens could then approach city or school officials and say they will try to round up support for a millage increase or bond if X, Y, and Z are changed in the proposal. Without those changes in the proposal, the group would try to defeat the proposal.

    While I think that city officials DO try to develop citizen consensus, and occasionally even CSD makes some timid attempts at it, even the most citizen-friendly local government can get stuck on its own ideas. And then citizens are forced in a vote to either say thumbs up and swallow their reservations or say thumbs down knowing that some important things won’t be funded. You can speak up beforehand but an individual voice doesn’t carry a lot of weight, is often accused of being disloyal, and can be drowned out by louder voices. Maybe a well-organized reasonable group of citizens has more of a chance. Is this feasible or pie-in-the-sky?

    Bottom line: I am REALLY worried about the downward trajectory of funding for our schools and I don’t see it ending in the next few years. Without a tax increase, I think 20 years of community investment in our schools will be lost and Decatur will be a much sadder place. But I also can’t see the community voting for a tax increase if they perceive waste or self-interest in city and school management.

    1. Karrass,
      I appreciate your concerns and i agree that the baby vs bath water could be a bit of a conundrum.

      I think it boils down to who you think left the baby in the bath water to begin with and what were they thinking (or not thinking) when they left the baby there.

      To miss the estimate of rthe cost of the fire station by 100% is a pretty big avoidable miss. I’ll admit that I probably should have recognized this when it initally came up before the city council to approve the increase as DM says “a couple of years ago.”

      However, I also recognize that even if I had realized at the time, my assupmtion would have been that our professional city staff and elected officials (one of whom is president of a construction company and therefore should be at least somewhat knowledgable about construction budgets and pricing), had worked out where to get the money from other bond projects that had, or were expected to, come in under budget to offset.

      I don’t recall that there was such a discussion.

      I honestly have much less of an issue about the need and the cost of these improvements which are probably needed and and are likely best for Decatur but I can’t tolerate the perception that I have that there is an attempt to manipulate me by the people who are paid to look after my interests – even if those people mean nothing but the best for me. It is unconscionable that the city asks for funds to achive 5 specific tasks (which were selected on the basis of making sure everyone in Decatur had a reason to vote “yes” on the referendum) then spend the money on 3 of the tasks and then come back saying effectively they couldn’t help it please give us more money so we can do what we should already have done.

      So, let me ask you this.

      Suppose you and your spouse come home leaving the baby sitter with your infant. Several hours later, you return and the baby sitter is asking about scheduling time for the following week to sit again. During this conversation, your spouse goes and finds the baby sitting alone in bathwater so long that the water is now cold. Do you re-schedule the sitter for the following week or do you fire them then and there?

      For me at least, it really doesn’t matter whether it is by design, by negligence or by neglect, it is obvious to me that the city manager (and others perhaps others too) is not performing to the level at which is required for the position. Were it up to me, my inclination would be termination.

      If I’m feeling charitable, I might agree to have it explained in open forum at a city commision meeting why the termination is not justified.

      This deal seems to fail the sniff test on so many different levels it is hard to know where to start looking – but if there is any interest in regaining the confidence of me (and apparently otheres who might agree with my assessment) then in the words of Ricky Ricardo “Lucy, you got a lot of ‘splaining to do.”

  9. Just got my tax bill too. And you know what? The valuation hasn’t changed, but the bottom line is 7% more than last year. How ’bout that? Anybody else see an increase?

    Taxes are already up, as we speak. And, it appears the city manager is calling for more on top of this. It says on my calendar that the city is holding a budget focus group meeting on Tuesday, April 13th, 7 pm. I hope to see all you there. There are some very intelligent people in this thread. Let’s not stop with airing it out here. Deal?

    1. Where is the “city manager’s call for more on top of this”?

      I believe all they have done thus far is taken a poll. No one is pushing a tax referendum down your throat.

      Would you rather the city just assume what you want and not ask?

      1. Seems reasonable to assume that if they’re taking a poll, then they’re contemplating when and how to ask for more money. It’s their job. It’s our job to insist on knowing what they need it for and how they’re going to use it. That naturally leads to the essential question we’ve all had to answer since being trusted with our own allowance: What happened to the money I gave you yesterday?

  10. Quite an interesting conversation.

    But where’s the PATTERN of deceit? The city manager admits they miscalculated the cost of Fire House #2, and I’d dare say if you want to blame anyone you need to spread the wealth around a bit more, from Mr. Saxon to the commission, but such damning views seem a bit over-the-top without a larger pattern.

    On this issue, the motivation and execution of the bond referendum seems to stand in for this larger pattern. The thinking goes, “they fixed the vote and then didn’t even do what they promised with the money.” And with that, one error is turned into a full-fledged forest fire of corruption.

    But I’ve yet to come across any proof – or even a first-hand account – that the bond referendum was intentionally somehow “fixed”. For those who voted against it – and consistently call for lower taxes – it doesn’t take much convincing, but I still don’t see the evidence. Just second-hand interpretation of events.

    I’m not saying that the criticism toward the Fire House is invalid – though it is about 2 years too late (where was the outrage in December 2007, when the commission voted on the change?) – but I’d dare say calls of incompetence seem a bit premature without more examples.

    1. The timing of the bond referendum, in a special election with no other issues on the ballot, was done specifically to help pass the referendum. Only regular voters and presumably civic supporters, school parents and those who would support the referendum, voted. It was legal, but even the AJC said the timing didn’t pass the sniff test.

    2. DM,
      Its not just the cost of Station 2.

      They asked for and received 1.4 million for Station 1 &2. They are now asking for 3 million for Station 1 alone.

      They asked for and received 2.05 million for the Rec Center. They are now asking for 5 million.

      What is the budget for the Police Station?

      How did they arrive at their initial numbers and how can we be assured that his time they’ve got it right?

      What is the status of the other projects approved in the referendum?

      Are they also over budget as well? If not, can we vote to cancel something previously approved and re-direct those funds to another project?

      If history is a teacher, should we assume that if a second bond were approved that 1 project would not be done at all and the other two will come in at double the estimate?

      If not, why not? What has the city shown us that would lead us to a different conclusion?

      It seems to me that there are many things our City does very well, and for which the walls of our public servants offices are adorned with many trinkets awarded by their peers for all the good things that they do.

      However, managing construction or bond money are not included in that illustrious list.

  11. Being surrounded by supercilious, pedantic, suspicious, overbearing, second-guessing near nihilistic people is very draining. Life in Decatur must be really miserable for many of you, as you seemingly have nothing better to do with your time than CONSTANTLY carp, analyze, preen and pontificate on every single thing that takes place in our cities, schools, etc. to the point of numbing obsession. I mean, involvement and participation is one thing…but SHEESH! No doubt if the firestation needed expanding in five years, a hue and cry would arise about how come this wasn’t planned when it was rebuilt in 2008. It is never enough. It is never right. It is never good enough.

    Much of the wonderful, present day conditions/offerings of our city that attracted many of you here in the FIRST place were brought about by the same folks whom you are now questionging as to their qualifications, intentions and integrity. And then you wrap the bow of being a “concerned” citizen around your package of contemptive criticism.

    No doubt there is a vast majority of folks who feel that overall, we have a great city and pretty darned good management and leadership and probably don’t speak up to say so. I for one would not trade it for any other city in our state. Does our city handle everything just the way every single citizen would do it? No, as that is an impossibility. But that seems to be be what you naysayers and dart throwers expect. While I certainly respect the process and do not wish to
    “flame”, sometimes it just gets too much and I have to say my “piece”. I do know that all of us want the best for Decatur.

    I am going to go out in the backyard and scream now to release my frustration. Hopefully, the classes at Agnes Scott won’t be horribly impacted.

    1. “Life in Decatur must be really miserable for many of you, as you seemingly have nothing better to do with your time than CONSTANTLY carp, analyze, preen and pontificate on every single thing that takes place in our cities, schools, etc. to the point of numbing obsession.” — Jack, I basically agree with you about that. My frustration lies in the fact that obsessive scrutiny of every single thing seems to be the only way to keep track of how things are being done and why. IMO that represents a lack of effective communication on the City’s part. I’m not saying I want to be apprised of every single thing. For example, I thought it appropriate to rely on the professionals to design the fire station. But I would have been interested to know that it was coming in 100% over estimates and what the ramifications of that would be. Now, I’d be interested to know the the timing of various decisions that have been made about deploying the bond funds. Did they know that money had run out for the fire stations before they committed to the Glenlake Park improvements? IMO when we passed the bond we gave the City the go-ahead to use the money as they deemed best. Many of my friends and neighbors opposed it precisely because of the looseness of the list and the lack of accountability built in. I supported it despite some reservations about that.

      It’s time for better communication. I still am willing to trust city management to manage the money we give them. That’s what we pay them for. But I want to know more about the decisions they are making–what, when, and why.

      1. Ah, all my digging in old city commission agendas last night was not for naught! From the December 3, 2007 City Commission meeting minutes (Word doc)…

        City Manager Merriss stated that in developing the financing and work plans for the capital projects included in the bond referendum it became evident that the City would only have sufficient funds in the public safety portion of the proceeds to reconstruct Fire Station #2 and therefore during the FY 07-08 budget process $330,000 was budgeted in the City’s regular Capital Improvements Fund to begin the first phase of renovations to Fire Station #1. City Manager Merriss stated that in reviewing the Fire Station #1 project it appeared that the most efficient and cost-effective method for renovation would be to design all of the improvements at one time and then bid the entire project as one job. City Manager Merriss noted that this would entail having to provide temporary office space, shelter and storage for functions located at Fire Station #1 during construction.

        City Manager Merriss stated that she anticipated recommending to the City Commission as part of the FY 08-09 budget that the City Commission approve financing construction of improvements and temporary facilities for Fire Station #1 using a “bricks & mortar” lease-purchase program. City Manager Merriss noted that this would be similar to the financing used to construct the Glenlake Tennis Center Building.

        In response to a question from Commissioner Kemp, City Manager Merriss stated that a “bricks & mortar” lease-purchase was used for constructing buildings whereas an equipment lease-purchase financed equipment.

        City Manager Merriss stated that the proposed resolution did not bind the City to actually use lease-purchase financing but it would allow the City to reimburse the Capital Improvements Fund for costs associated with the project should financing be approved in the future.

        In response to a question from Mayor Floyd, City Manager Merriss stated that being able to reimburse the Capital Improvements Fund for costs incurred on the Fire Station #1 project would mean that funds would be available for other capital work.

        In response to a question from Commissioner Kemp, City Manager Merriss stated that staff had been generous in developing the project budget estimate of $3 million.

        In response to a question from Commissioner Boykin, City Manager Merriss stated that the improvements to Fire Station #1 had not been designed but that the tent storage at the rear of the property was probably going to be needed in the future.

        On a motion by Mayor pro tem Baskett, second by Commissioner Kemp, and all voting “aye”, the City Commission adopted Resolution R-07-29 indicating the City’s intent to finance costs of renovations to Fire Station #1.”

        1. DM, you’ve illustrated my point, as far as I’m concerned. Why should it require digging through old (or current) City Commission agendas to stay reasonably informed about what’s going on? And the “Bond Fund Project Updates” section at the City website does not contain answers to any of the questions we’ve been posing. [That in itself, IMO, bolsters my case that a newly designed website will not fix all of the shortcomings in the City’s communication effectiveness. But that’s a different thread.] Of course the City is loathe to trumpet “We made a multimillion dollar mistake.” Nobody wants to do that. But there are ways to handle such situations without making your constituents feel that they’re the ones being “handled.”

      2. Smalltowngal,
        Thank you. You said it so much better than I. I agree completely with your sentiments.

    2. Being surrounded by supercilious, pedantic, suspicious, overbearing, second-guessing near nihilistic people is very draining


      Indeed. These people don’t merely disagree with you about this particular issue; they’re just bad people.

    3. SAACJack,

      I’ve heard that digging in the dirt is reeeeally good for letting out your frustrations. SO, if you’d like to come join me in MY backyard…

    4. SAACJack – I think that our leadership has been great up to this point. I think that things have gone so well that Decatur has outgrown certain segments of city management personnel. These folks have not updated their skills and experience at a rate to keep up with the growth of Decatur and the increasing sophistication required to run it. We need some leadership and planning that fits with what Decatur needs NOW — not 20 years ago. If the current folks can get up to speed FAST and prove that they can cope, keep them. If not, replace them. I’m not voting for any bond until I see one or the other.

      And yes I vote several times in each election – twice in the morning and at least once in the afternoon. And yes I’m on that visioning committee meeting over the next few months.

      1. Your comments about inadequacy of skills is interesting in light of the fact that outside auditors always give high compliments to the financial situation and reporting and several of the management staff have been nationally recognized and have had or do hold senior positions in municipal management t professional organizations – a vote of confidence from their peers. And, outside groups come to Decatur on almost a weekly basis because Decatur is held up as a national model of smart planning and growth.

        Maybe you’d rather have the kind of management that Atlanta, Fulton, and DeKalb have.

  12. Some responses…

    @ Taxus: Of course the fact that I fail to see any underlying malfeasance or incompetence is not proof it doesn’t exist, any more than your or Skeptic’s take is proof that it does exist. We all present facts. There’s very little debate here about facts. What’s at issue is what those facts add up to, and that’s simply a matter of perspective. Our perspectives differ.

    Everything being discussed here boils down to city-level decisions that are made on judgment. Human beings, taking the temperature of what people want them to do, reconciling that sense with what’s politically and/or economically feasible, and making the call. The questions being raised here ultimately lead back to whether or not those making the final call had an accurate understanding of what the community wants. Was the bond a mandate to pursue the list of projects in a loose fashion, letting evolving realities change the scope over time, or was it permission to do strict implementation according to initial estimates?

    That’s where we all seem to differ, but it’s a question with no black and white answer.

    Ultimately, what everyone is suggesting — with talk of organizing or forming a blog or whatnot in an effort to be better heard — is that there is a disconnect between what we, the citizens, want and what our city government thinks we want or is willing to do on our behalf.

    If that’s the case, then what’s needed is for a cohesive resident vision to become more clear so that a) our leaders better understand what we want; and b) decisions can more accurately be measured against community goals. Fortunately, there’s an upcoming opportunity to do just that, and it’s one with considerably more political weight than starting a blog or discussing issues over coffee: the Strategic Plan Update. DM is chock-full of passionate, informed, educated residents with valuable perspectives across the spectrum. It’s my hope that everyone here has made plans to participate and advocate for their positions.

    1. Good, positive point. The City really wants a ton of participation. Strategic planning won’t address every fine point of issues concerning posters but it can have a huge overall impact.

      Perhaps every pedantic, suspicious, overbearing, second-guessing near nihilistic comment should be accompanied by the disclaimer, “I agree to participate in the Strategic Planning focus groups”. 🙂 In addition, we can add to the standard default Decatur Metro responses like “If you don’t like it, you can leave….” and “Control your children and dogs….” and “Free Westchester….”, a new one: “If you’re going to be nihilistic, then join the strategic planning process…”

      BTW, to paraphrase a truism, just because you’re nihilistic, doesn’t mean there isn’t something wrong. And just because you’re a Decatur cheerleader, doesn’t mean there isn’t something to cheer about.

      1. Thanks. And I’d also add, “If you recognize that democracy carries with it certain challenges and trade-offs yet still believe Decatur is leaps and bounds above most other places in its willingness to listen and respond to what residents want, then you too join the strategic planning process!”

        Long story short, if the city’s on the wrong track, they need to know that. And if they’re on the right track, they need to know that too. Y’all come!

    2. Scott, I’m curious. I’ve heard that your company is conducting the Strategic Plan Update. Is that correct? Community input and the Strategic Plan process are good for the city and the community, but I don’t think community input can ever be expected take the place of solid professional judgment. Info from citizens gives more data for the professionals to base their decision-making on, but it can’t substitute for strict compliance with a bond issue. It’s fine for citizens to express their desire for a LEED-certified fire station, but our management should still strive to have that construction end near the budgeted amount.

      Skeptic, you raise many important points, and I agree with you about a lot of them. Coming in 100 % over budget, after an oddly timed bond vote, does raise questions. Not questions of bad folks or bad motives, but yes, whether we’ve had bad management of public funds.

      I also agree with the folks on other threads who want the city to manage “its” money the way many residents are having to, those with cut salaries, furloughs, even lost jobs. Decatur is a great place to live, but it’s not isolated from the financial mess that’s all over the world. Given some of our local mishaps, we all need to be thinking more about how the city spends its money. Skeptic, Fifi, and Smalltown Gal point us in some good directions.

      DM, can you get us more info on city government? How many assistant city managers do we have now and what do they do? Do they all get city cars? Is it true our deputy city manager retired and is now a contract employee in the same position, and if so, why? Since real estate development is slow to dead right now, how much of city government (including our two related but development agencies) is currently allotted to development? Do some of these agencies or positions need to be retired to fit the new economy? (You have to watch those development agencies, since some of our employee positions seem to be divided among the city, the DDA, and the DDA.) Who can tell what the real budget for development is? How well funded are our pension liabilities with the downturn of the markets? And is it really true we publish a new city coloring book each year? Yeah, I’m a little worried.

  13. This kerfuffle cements my belief that Decatur has the WORST city government – except for all the others.

  14. I still think it should be a requirement on this blog that, if you’re going to complain about this or that as regards City government, you should be required to state whether or not you have voted in the last at least two municipal elections.

    1. And how many times you voted! 🙂

      Disclaimer: I always vote and I will attend the Strategic Planning focus groups.

      1. Do you think I would issued the challenge if I could not defend myself? Congratulations on your participation on local issues. You are one of the 20% or so of the electorate who actually do vote in municipal elections.

        I have never failed to vote in an election at any level and I am likewise participating in the focus groups.

        1. Whoops, I wasn’t clear. I was trying to add humor to your statement “…you should be required to state whether or not you have voted in the last at least two municipal elections” by adding “…and how often you voted” as in “Vote early and often!” Evidently the comic connection didn’t survive the thread. I wasn’t doubting at all whether you had voted; your postings would indicate that you are a model citizen and quite knowledgeable about city government.

          My guess is that the kind of folks who read and post here regularly, for all their faults, are mostly in the 20% who vote. The 80% who don’t vote probably don’t bother with community-oriented blogs. My stereotyped impression is that they are watching reality TV and doing dating surveys on-line.

          1. Point given and taken. Still, the folks who don’t participate are, to my experience anyway, often the first ones to complain as well as the one who haven’t been paying attention.

        2. I vote in all elections, I’ve signed up for planning process (although I hate meetings), I’m a member of two PTAs, teach Sunday school and am active in my neighborhood association.

          On the cost of the fire station. Folks have glommed on to the co-ed nature of facility, but there were other factors … housing two pieces of equipment, and to provide alternative emergency management capabilities.

          Those could have been what cost the most, not making the facility co-ed. It’s also en environmental LEED building.

    2. I have voted in every municipal election since moving to Decatur 11 years ago. I have corresponded directly with City Commissioners and City staff members at various times about specific issues that concerned me. I have served on citizen committees/task forces when invited. I generally trust our City government, think we get a lot for our tax dollars, and don’t believe in micro-managing what they’re doing. But I do think ongoing status reports are in order, including when and how decisions are made. Then we aren’t left to draw our own conclusions and spin off into conspiracy theories or wholesale condemnations.

      1. As I told karass, congratulations on being involved. I do not disagree with your take on status reports.

      2. I agree with your general stance smalltowngirl, but I also believe that we shouldn’t totally put the onus on the city to communicate.

        Over the years the city has tried to fill the “free-press gap” by being more communicative about things, but it’s hard to believe that any government would stand up and start screaming “Hey, look here! We made a big mistake!”. You need a “free press” to point that stuff out.

        A big part of the communication gap was caused by a dying and/or inefficient local press. Luckily the internet is allowing us to begin to bridge that gap.

        The city is very good at accommodating DM, be it my own requests or responding to community comments, even at times when they know they will not be seen in a very good light.

        They don’t need to be. They could be complete jerks about everything and hold back information or at least slow down the communication chain to the point where we couldn’t get a hold of anything until long after an issue has passed. So I don’t take that for granted.

        Have we, the community, filled that communication gap completely yet? No. But notice that this bond issue came up in late 2007, when InDecatur and I were only first getting our feet wet. It would be interesting to see what would transpired if it happened today.

        1. You’re right, DM, but that is only the conventional model. Since we don’t have a daily paper anyway, who’s to say we couldn’t develop a communication model whereby the City took the initiative to provide timely, frank information to the citizenry, without depending on the “free press” to ferret it out? If we as a community truly value honesty, integrity, and collaboration, then that should be reflected in how our City is managed and governed, so that even news that is bad or might reflect poorly is shared candidly along with all relevant information about ‘why’, ‘how’, and ‘what next’.

          BTW, while I value Decatur Metro, I don’t think you’re going to close the gap we’re talking about unless you shift to a more journalistic approach, which would (IMO) fundamentally alter what you do and what you offer. Regarding inDECATUR, I don’t know because I have not been reading it regularly. But neither do I think you SHOULD try to fill the breach. I think the City puts considerable time, energy, and resources into communicating with the populace, and I’d simply like to see it be more effective.

        2. It would be interesting to see what would transpired if it happened today.

          My guess is that if DM had existed in 2006 – the bond vote would have been a lot closer than it was.

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