February 22, 2007

LASD: cannot control costs; project restrictions looming

Yet another example (below) of wasted taxpayer dollars. When will taxpayers ever realize that we just don't get our moneys worth from any public agency and that the Kings and Queens of LA County (The Board of Supervisors) are not really beholden to the taxpayers but public employee unions?

Sheriff's project goes awry
By Pam Wight Staff Writer
Whittier Daily News

WHITTIER - The county Board of Supervisors is facing $6.4 million in cost overruns stemming from a relocation project run by the Sheriff's Department.

As a result, the supervisors are weighing whether to restrict the department's ability to manage future capital projects.

The board was supposed to take up the issue of the Special Enforcement Bureau relocation project at Tuesday's meeting, but the matter was continued until Feb. 27.

The relocation project's aim is to create a centralized area for homeland security training and response, according to the board's agenda.

To do that, officials decided in 1999 to upgrade the sheriff's Biscailuz Regional Training Center in Monterey Park in order to relocate the Whittier-based Training Academy and the East Los Angeles-based SEB to that site.

However, project costs began to rise when builders encountered old landfills at the Monterey Park site, which meant making significant changes to the original grading, drainage and site preparation plans.

Heavy rains in 2005 exacerbated the situation, officials said.

Sheriff's officials authorized cost increases and other changes without first getting the board's approval - a violation of county procedures, according to the agenda materials.

Now, the county's Chief Administrative Office is recommending that from now on Public Works should manage any capital projects that cost more than $1 million and involve "building new structures."

Supervisor Don Knabe said in a written statement that cost changes need to be "determined by the Board of Supervisors through approval of change orders and not validated after the fact."

Meanwhile, Sheriff's Department officials are conducting an internal investigation to identify where the management problems occurred and will issue a report to the CAO within 60 days.

"Even though the work we did was all reasonable and necessary, protocols were not followed," said Sheriff's Department spokesman Victor Rampulla. "And so we're doing an inquiry into the decision-making process. We can't just say everything's fine. The public doesn't expect that. We have a responsibility to follow procedure."

According to Knabe, when the board first approved the project it was supposed to be overseen by Public Works. The project was given to the Sheriff's Department in 2004 in an attempt to stay within budget.

Officials expected that moving the training academy would save the department $1 million annually, money that otherwise would have been spent on leasing office space.

The first of two phases of the project was the SEB relocation, which is nearly complete. Moving the training academy from the Sheriff's Training and Services Center from South Whittier will be the project's second phase.

Original cost estimates for each phase were approximately $9 million. Now, Phase I will cost more than $16 million and Phase II is expected to be $19.3 million, including "improvements and refinements" to the original plans.

Sheriff's officials are asking that the Board of Supervisors allow them to take $6.4 million from the Phase II account and spend it on completing Phase I. The money will go in part to contractors and consultants for work that is already done.

In the meantime, officials will re-evaluate Phase II, said Rampulla.

"While I am certainly unhappy with the way this project has been managed," Knabe said, "I am pleased that the cost overruns are being absorbed by the Sheriff's Department within their existing budget as opposed to this board bailing them out with additional general fund dollars."


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