York County officials are increasingly concerned about the cost of Pennies for Progress, as the County Council is asked to pay an extra $100,000 for work on a project from the last round of the road construction program.
Council members voted 5-2 to approve the extra money for AT&T to move utility lines near a planned traffic circle at the intersection of North Congress Street and Lincoln Road in York. The county initially agreed to pay $156,553.13 to cover the cost of relocating the lines.
The project was approved as part of the third round of Pennies for Progress in a public referendum in 2011.
But on March 21, the county received a request to add another $100,793.83 to the cost of the project, bringing the final price to $257,346.96. The County Council initially balked at the company’s nearly doubling its price and delayed voting to approve the request while asking county officials to research if they were “legally required” to pay the higher price.
It turns out the resolution on the traffic circle requires the county pick up the tab for moving utilities.
On Monday, County Manager Bill Shanahan recommended the council approve AT&T’s request, with the caveat that “The county will only reimburse AT&T for costs incurred for work performed based on actual and related direct costs,” according to a memo to the council.
“We expect there will be reductions in some prices,” Shanahan said. “I’d rather we hit this way, than having to come back in two months and say, ‘I need another $50,000, please.’ ”
In 2011, voters approved $28.8 million for intersection and pedestrian safety improvements, with $1.2 million allocated to the Congress/Lincoln traffic circle.
Councilwoman Christi Cox of Rock Hill was joined by Councilman Bruce Henderson of Clover in opposing the payout.
“I won’t support it because this request is completely without any details,” Cox said.
But Councilman Michael Johnson of Fort Mill worried that hitting the “pause button” on the traffic circle also could hold up all other Pennies projects until the pay dispute is resolved.
“Cost overruns are a concern,” he said, “but it’s also a concern that we can’t seem to build any roads.”
The council considered the request two weeks after a “citizens’ committee” submitted a review of the last three rounds of Pennies projects dating back to the first referendum in 1997, reporting millions in cost overruns in the first two rounds of the long-standing program, which is paid for by a penny sales tax.
The $99.2 million Pennies 1 package approved in 1997 finished up spending more than $84.9 million more than voters approved – although it was completed using a combination of bonds and state and federal grant funding. The $173 million Pennies 2 package approved in 2003 – yet to be completed – is also set to exceed initial cost estimates, even after the number of projects was reduced.
Other financial concerns have come to the fore. The council was told Monday that a total of $4 million had been removed from the two projects at the bottom of the Pennies 3 list – Mount Gallant Road and S.C. 72 – to pay administrative costs.
“The voters did not approve taking $2 million off (each),” Cox said. “Highway 72 was on Pennies 2. It got bumped to Pennies 3, and not only bumped, but pushed to the very end.”
With interest payments, the total tax take from Pennies 3 is now expected to yield an additional $4 million, Shanahan said. Nevertheless, he told the council on Monday, “the original estimates were bad.”
“We’ve learned a lot from Pennies 1, 2 and 3,” Shanahan said. “We hope to have quite a few changes (in the next round), because nobody likes the way it was handled.”