Council OKs extra $3M for complex

Unanimously agrees building is needed

Staff Writer

Staff Writer

Whether or not an $11.8 million municipal complex in Tinton Falls was worth the wait is still up for debate.

Nonetheless, the Borough Council last week approved spending $3 million more than it originally anticipated three years ago on a decade-old dream of seeing a new $8.8 million complex come to fruition.

Citing a "there’s no point in looking back" mentality, the council unanimously agreed at its July 20 meeting that the new building has been needed and wanted far too long to not sanction spending the extra money.

"We just need the building too much," Mayor Ann McNamara said. "A rise in construction costs just can’t be helped. Steel prices have gone through the roof. It was a shock, but the only other choice was to scale back the plans or move forward with the original plan. Council ultimately decided that going ahead with a smaller building would not suit future needs. It would have been pointless."

An alternative, she said, would have been to go with a 27,000-square-foot building, 10,000 square feet less than planned, and spend no extra money. Less space, though, would suit fewer needs.

"Nobody likes the idea of spending more money," council President Jerome Donlon said. "But we are at a crossroads with this and had to choose a direction. We chose to proceed. We just had to bite the bullet with this one and move forward. I think, and everyone agrees, it is the right way to go. We need the complex and we’ve been waiting too long."

The wait was the real problem that was attributed to the rise in costs, particularly by Councilman Peter Maclearie.

McNamara has maintained all along that the surprise price hike for the 37,000 square foot building — brought to council months ago by the project’s architects Kaplan, Gaunt DeSantis, Red Bank — could not have been avoided.

However, Maclearie begged to differ. When the council and mayor gasped in shock over the new price tag, he was shaking his head and wagging a finger saying "I told you so."

Maclearie said he anticipated the hike in cost last year when he questioned the municipal budget in a letter to council and, with it, the cost of waiting to build the complex. After bonding for an $8.8 million complex, including a $2 million unattached public works facility, back in October 2001. Construction of the main complex never went out to bid.

Nearly three years after the bonding, the $2 million public works building has been up since last summer and there is no main complex sitting on the "great lawn" in the front of the present main town hall.

Why not? Maclearie has asked that question for more than a year.

Construction of the main building, or phase two of the project, was slated to cost about $6.8 million when it was first conceived by the architects.

Bonding for the total $8.8 million nearly three years ago allowed the town to take advantage of low interest rates, McNamara said. That may be so, said Maclearie, but letting the bonds sit in limbo cost more.

McNamara says the bonds, sitting in a holding pattern, carrying a roughly 4 percent interest rate, are not a lesson in wasteful spending because "the rate stays the same, whether the money is spent yet or not."

If anything, the mayor contended, the borough saved by bonding earlier because rates have escalated to a point where a new, higher interest rate alone would cost more than the wait.

The timeline for both phases of the project — construction of the public works building and the main complex — was expected to span a maximum of 18 months. Public works’ new quarters were completed at the end of the summer of 2003. The main building was supposed to go out to bid and never did.

Not too long ago, Borough Administrator Anthony Muscillo said that ground would be broken on the main complex in the spring. It was not.

Waiting to go out to bid cost too much, Maclearie maintained, not to mention the construction costs.

Maclearie says he estimated that taxpayers have already footed at least a $400,000 bill in interest alone on the stagnant bonds. He says he checked the figure with Chief Financial Officer Stephen Pfeffer, who agreed that the rough estimate was accurate.

Maclearie could not have disagreed more with the mayor’s calculated ‘savings’, but, in the end, he said, it really is just a lesson learned.

"I’m just happy we’re moving forward," he added. "There’s really no point in looking back. Now that we’ve committed to spending so much more, though, I just hope we go out to bid very soon, so we don’t end up getting socked with even more costs."

While taxpayers will not absorb the cost of the $3 million bond this year. When they do, it will cost them about a penny per $100 of assessed property value, or an average of about $27 a year, Maclearie estimated.

This year the municipal budget brought no tax increase. However, last year, the cost of the municipal complex was responsible for about six cents of the total tax hike or 8 cents.