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The Right Note: How Much Should It All Cost?

Mark KellyThe Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

A report out of Toronto is that a local man built a set of stairs at a public park after the city quoted a minimum of $65,000 to do the job — the high end for the estimate was a whopping $150,000.

By contrast, the cost for materials and labor for the completed project was $550, which was paid for by asking some neighbors to chip in.

Toronto is now threatening to tear them down until they can build the more expensive version. The city attempted to block off the eight stairs with caution tape in the interim, but from the looks of the photos, people who like using the stairs are continuing to do so anyway.

Almost certainly, the stairs were not built to city code. Just as certainly, there is no acceptable reason the project should cost at least 120 times more than your average man on the street can build it. But as we have learned in Arlington, when the government is involved in a project or “solving a problem,” it almost always costs the taxpayers more than it should.

Arlington gained national notoriety for our $1 million, open air, not quite big enough to keep you dry if it rained, bus stop. That price tag was explained away as a prototype absorbing costs for design and engineering. Then it was announced the county had lowered the cost per stop to a still mind-boggling $575,000. Better, but still equivalent to the construction costs of a rather large custom home.

Arlington this week announced it would pay nearly $3.9 million for a building assessed at $2.4 million. According to County Board chair Jay Fisette, paying 44 percent over the assessed value was the best deal they could get from the building’s owner. The total cost of moving the county’s Head Start program to the location will come in at $10.5 million once renovations are complete.

In 2014, Arlingtonians looked at the county’s record under one party rule and voted in an independent. Following up on his campaign platform, John Vihstadt lead the effort to bring a County Auditor on board.

In June, the County Board approved the County Auditor’s FY 2018 work plan. And there is nothing wrong with the plan as a first step. However, if the Board is able to dole out an extra $1.5 million for a piece of property, they should be prepared to find an additional $150,000 for the Auditor’s office budget and hire two more people to speed up the pace of reviewing how the county spends our money.

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