County admin costs take big cut of TBD funds

By Pat Grubb

A Point Roberts Garden Club request to renew its funding of Tyee Drive garden maintenance using transportation benefit district (TBD) funds hit a major bump in the road at the last Point Roberts Community Advisory Committee (PRCAC) meeting on October 17.

Club members were surprised to learn that the county had charged $4,500 to administer the payout of $8,920 for the maintenance work. Members were incredulous that the county would charge that much for a contract that only generated one invoice a month over the gardening season.

Club president Scott Hackleman told PRCAC board members that the club’s request was being placed on county council’s agenda in November for consideration and suggested it would be a good opportunity to bring concerns about county administration charges to council members’ attention. PRCAC board member David Gellatly said he had discussed the issue of administrative costs with county executive Jack Louws earlier in the year and would follow up with him.

In a subsequent email exchange with Louws on October 21, Gellatly provided him with the county public works costing for 2018 and 2019. For 2018, the maintenance contract cost $5,317 with the county assessing another $4,026 in administrative fees for a total of $9,343. The estimated maintenance contract for April to December 2019 came to $8,920 with another administrative fee of $4,500 for a total of $13,420. For the two years, administrative costs were 59.8 percent of the contract costs.

Gellatly expressed “shock and surprise” and pointed out that the county was collecting one percent interest on the $1 million that was sitting in the TBD account. Gellatly advised Louws that he had requested “an accounting of the county staff time associated with the administration of these contracts.” Louws responded that he’d allow public works to address the issue first and would step in if PRCAC was not satisfied with the response.

In a later email to fellow PRCAC board members, Gellatly explained how county works had come up with their administrative charges. “As it was explained to me, no time is charged prior to the approval of council. Staff time (hourly wage, including benefits etc.) is charged for drafting the scope of work, letter of agreement, establishing a contract and reviewing it with the garden club.” The county had told him that “there was significant time that had to be put in with the contractor, as it was not a contractor who operated in a manner consistent with those used by the county. Items which needed to be addressed included county contract requirements, the issue of prevailing wage rates, L&I requirements, licensing, general liability insurance and auto insurance.”

The garden club first approached PRCAC in April 2018, asking that some of the 20 percent of TBD funds PRCAC had decided could be spent on smaller projects every year be used to maintain the plantings along Tyee Drive. Until then, the plantings had been maintained by volunteers. Their request won approval from the PRCAC board, and in June 2018, county council – acting as the TBD board – approved the use, not to exceed $20,000, for “recurring landscape vegetation maintenance work” along Tyee Drive. In November 2019 council approved a budget of $30,000 in TBD funds on “roadside maintenance contracts.”

At the October 17 PRCAC meeting, voters’ association president Allison Calder asked that the committee delay any decision until the issue of exorbitant administrative fees is resolved. “The $4,500 administrative fee is awfully high especially when the administrative fee for the solid waste ordinance is $957.50 for contractual billing and payments of $405,150.92,” she later said.

PRCAC member David Gellatly said he would continue to work with public works finance staff and the executive’s office to find answers. At press time, PRCAC was scheduled to discuss the garden club contract at a special meeting being held Thursday, October 24 at the community center.

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