Rockwall City Council member Glen Farris sounds upset.
After my editorial opinion last week stating that the million-dollar boat docks upgrade at The Harbor is a “bad idea” while so many people and organizations are struggling financially, plus the ensuing WFAA-TV News story the next day, Rockwall City Council member Glen Farris wrote on his GlenFarris.com blog Thanksgiving day that he is appalled with my implication that the Council should bail out a non-profit.
“I am appalled at The Rockwall News and the Boys and Girls Club of Rockwall for implying that the City of Rockwall should give up economic development opportunities and bail out a nonprofit organization.”
“It is not the responsibility of any City to ensure that non-profits thrive or even survive.”
First of all, I must clarify that the Rockwall Boys & Girls Club did not imply anything. It was just my opinion and mine alone. I’m not connected to the Club – just a big supporter. The Club did not ask me to write the opinion. Any implication is just by me, and no support should be withdrawn from the Club for my opinion.
Secondly, as I admitted in my editorial, I have much to learn about the handling of city tax dollars and municipal bonds. Former Council member Bob Cotti tried helping out by emailing that the boat docks are being paid for by municipal bonds and they cannot be used to assist non-profit agencies.
But as Council member Mark Russo told me two days ago, municipal bonds are really just loans from the bank which the City will then repay with tax dollars. So, as I therefore understand it, it is still tax dollars that are being used to pay for the boat docks.
Now why should the City spend a million tax dollars to repair and expand from nine to 30-40 boat slips? What was the Council’s reasoning? And did Rockwall residents really have much of a say in the matter? Was it publicized that such a decision was being considered?
According to Mark, there are two main reasons why the Council decided to spend the money now.
First, the boat docks were not correctly designed and/or built in the first place by the engineering firm which originally built them (I’m working on getting their name).
Fortunately the City had a warantee built into the contract, requiring the engineering firm to return to repair the docks, but their renovation still didn’t make it right.
So the rebuild is now required because the docks are deemed unsafe.
Among my questions are these: Should the taxpayers and City really have to pay for this renovation? How about holding the feet of the original engineering firm to the fire to pay for it – until they get it right? Is there no other recourse now for the City other than to borrow more money (tax dollars) to pay for it? Do we really have to hire Bellingham Marine to build it right?
And, by the way, it’s my understanding that the contract was awarded to Bellingham without putting the contract up for bids. Is that even legal? I’m told by one Council observer that the City can sign contracts up to $25,000 without using the bid process, but not a million-dollar project. I’m further researching that matter now.
The second reason for the boat dock contract, according to Russo, is to help alleviate the parking problem at The Harbor, especially on weekends and during summer concerts. Adding 20-30 boat docks was seen as a way to provide additional parking spaces for boaters, which is apparently what Glen considers “economic development opportunities.”
But isn’t that just serving the minute portion of Rockwall residents who have boats? Is it really necessary to invest another million bucks so they can have somewhere to park their boats? Wouldn’t the money be better invested in more parking places for cars and trucks – thereby serving far more Rockwall citizens? And why weren’t more boat slips built in the first place?
If the boat docks would have been built correctly in the first place, would all of this money have been committed to this expansion? According to Russo – admittedly just one council member – probably not! The thinking at the time was that if the City could get a good price now from a contractor – with the economy down – then they might as well do both.
I’d like to hear the answer to that question from more City Council members and plan to ask each of them shortly.
In conclusion, the way I see it, all of this discussion comes down to the basic issue of how successful the private-public partnership at The Harbor is, and whether more tax dollars should be spent there when so many businesses have left, so many store fronts currently stand empty and so few people are shopping there. It almost seems like a ghost town at times!
Obviously the Council can’t let such an important development fail. But is an expansion of boat docks really the answer?
If we’re not going to assist non-profits (which the Council did just last meeting when it approved $20,000 for the non-profit Rockwall Committee On Aging) and really want to expand “economic development opportunities” (as Glen put it), then why doesn’t the Council ensure that The Harbor has an effective advertising and promotion campaign? A million-dollar ad budget would do a lot more to fill businesses with customers than boat docks. The Harbor also needs to recruit better businesses which will attract more customers. Lease rates of just under $10,000 per month for some store fronts also seem incredibly high!
But the promotion of The Harbor is another story which I need to investigate further, so residents can better understand how our tax dollars are being managed and spent. From the digging I’ve done so far, I’ve been told that very few dollars are being spent regularly to promote it.
In conclusion, Glen wrote that he wonders why RISD, the National Boys & Girls Club and the Rockwall Club’s board of directors were not included in the Channel 8 news stories, suggesting they all have some responsibility for the Club’s financial problems.
Good points, Glen, which we will definitely investigate further! TheRockwallNews.com was the first news operation to break the news that the Club is facing a financial crisis, so we’ll follow up on their progress soon. We also plan to ask RISD and the National Boys & Girls Club what they’re doing to help keep the Club open, and we definitely will this week.
We’ll let you know what we learn.