By: Ed Thompson, Preserve Johns Creek
The City of Johns Creek has an ongoing and consistent problem – a lack of budget discipline, and a practice of learning of spiraling costs at a point where it is typically too late to do anything about it. Who is Watching the Store?
A case in point is the cost for our new City Hall. The latest estimates to complete that work came in at more than $1MM over plan (add in furniture costs that were shifted off-budget in order to make the miss appear to be less than it truly is, and you’re at $2.5MM over plan), and discussions about reviewing line item costs were given little consideration because of suggestions that introducing further delays would result in additional cost increases. In an interesting exercise in creative accounting, funds from the Parks Bonds were allocated to the City Hall budget.
More recently, a presentation of the plans and costs for city parks provided further evidence of a lack of budget discipline, along with a decided lack of accountability for budget management. It was noted that in the lead-up to the Parks Bond vote, the residents were assured that the proposed projects and costs would be carefully managed and delivered as promised. That clearly hasn’t happened. Mayor Bodker provided a quick summary of the exploding costs over time. For three pocket parks, the average current estimate over-allocated budget exceeds 200%.
Councilwoman Endres has been consistent and vocal in expressing her concerns about the lack of budget discipline that have been occurring within our city. She prepared information that was provided during the City Council Work Session that show the extent of the funding gap that we’re facing on the three pocket parks, and one regional park that were part of the meeting agenda.
This has become a consistent pattern in Johns Creek. The residents are “sold” a concept and asked to approve it (in this case, the vote to approve bonds to fund park development). Once approved, the City Council allocates funds (the budget) to begin the process of developing a project (be it the new City Hall, pocket parks, or regional parks). The construction estimates come back to Council well over budget, and then we are told that there were changes or discoveries that caused the new estimates to exceed the budget. In many instances, that mismatch between budget and the updated estimate isn’t revealed until it’s too late to take any actions to bring costs back in-line. When costs do ultimately exceed budget, there never seems to be a discussion, decision, and action that seeks to offset cost overruns by cutting costs elsewhere. You certainly wouldn’t run your business or household that way – at least not for very long.
So the question becomes: who is being held accountable for these consistent budget and cost overruns, and what is being done to make sure they don’t continue to occur? If we fail to address that question, the answer by default is going to be increased taxes.