There’s a brutal political truth to the Citrus County Animal Shelter project and it is this:
Nothing comes easy.
We were all anticipating Tuesday’s consultant report on the animal shelter project in Lecanto. What we weren’t expecting was the low-end estimate of $22 million.
Got that? $22 million. The LOW END.
Before you go bonkers, jumping to the chase: Commissioners didn’t buy it.
Commissioners had another number in mind: $9 million, which is the number they started with and were a little, um, surprised to learn it had changed so dramatically.
Let’s get into it.
Tocoi Engineering, the company with the nearly $1 million design contract, had its first public presentation Tuesday and it could have gone a little better.
The agenda said consultants were “requesting input and direction as to various alternative materials and building options.”
Your basic consultant-giving-options-for-the-board-to-choose scenario.
I’ve been through a few hundred of these and they generally follow the same route: A wrap of how we got where we are, a summary of what’s in place currently, the thinking behind the improvements, and then options with price tags.
Tuesday didn't go quite like that. There was no wrap of how we got here, so it was like starting school in the fall without a reminder of what we learned last spring. I read up on it myself as a refresher.
And while the PowerPoint did have options, the price tags were inexplicably not included. The consultant read them off as we scribbled down the numbers on scratch pads:
Option 1 (animal hurricane shelter): $32 million to $35 million.
Option 2 (hurricane category 3 strength): $24 million to $27 million.
Option 3 (category 2 strength, the consultant’s bottom plan): $22 million to $25 million.
It took Commissioner Jeff Kinnard about one-tenth of a millisecond to blurt: “I’m out at $22 million.”
Once presented the options, commissioners were then supposedly to whittle out the extras to something they’d be comfortable with. But without a cost assigned to each of these tasks, program or equipment, it was an exercise in futility.
The new estimates exceeded the old estimates for a whole bunch of reasons the consultant listed but none registered with commissioners, particularly Kinnard and Diana Finegan.
“This seems to be growing very quickly and the price is out of control,” Kinnard said.
No one had an answer for him, other than the new shelter will be bigger than the current one. The county and its consultant seemed unprepared for any meaningful dialogue.
Finegan, for example, said the county has about $10 million — pending sale of the Betz Farm property plus about $3.3 million in private contributions — and that should be plenty for a new facility.
When Chairman Ruthie Davis Schlabach said the private donations are for add-ons, such as a community room or cattery, Finegan had an excellent question: What are the add-ons and are any of them in these plans with the big price tag?
Schlabach said there’s a list of add-ons. No one had the list.
The public was promised clarity on the shelter project during Tuesday’s meeting but really we’re no closer to figuring it out than before the day started. We still don’t know what a $9 million shelter looks like.
The good news is all five commissioners reiterated their support for a new animal shelter in Lecanto. They want a shelter that’s right for our community, is designed for expansion and won’t break the bank.
Tuesday’s chat didn’t get us there. Let’s hope the next one does.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.