That’s the word from the head honcho of the Cumberland Community Improvement District that came up with the project and had planned to pay the entire cost out of the CID’s self-imposed tax kitty until an $800,000 federal grant appeared like a gift from a beneficent genie in the midst of an unprecedented federal deficit spending crisis.
Although the grant slashed the CID’s costs by 80 percent, the fees for designing the project took a giant leap, as the Journal’s Jon Gillooly reported Thursday. CID Chairman Tad Leithead said the grant required an engineering firm that was “prequalified under federal rules.” That eliminated the original firm of Mills Specialty Metals of Smyrna which the CID paid $64,000 last year for a design.
So the CID dumped unprequalified Mills and hired Pond & Company for a whopping $167,045 fee — which the beneficent Cobb Board of Commissioners approved Tuesday, presumably from money provided by Cobb County taxpayers. It’s for certain that the big chunk of greenbacks didn’t fall from the sky. It brings the total design fees so far to $231,000 — and the total project cost to $1,031,000 for bridge beautification, not construction of roads to relieve traffic congestion that’s supposed to be the big problem.
Why the much higher fee for the new firm? This question is especially pertinent since Leithead said the new design will be “something along those lines” of the Mills design but “maybe not exactly that.” So apparently the federally prequalified firm will work from the original Mills proposal that called for three 20-foot, blue-colored metal arches with LED lighting on the south side of the Cumberland Boulevard bridge over I-75 plus decorative fencing and removal of rust from both sides of the bridge.
The county commissioners had to cough up the money, which is more than two-and-one-half times the original design fee, because “the county is assisting in administering the project” since it “is on a local route over Georgia DOT right-of-way inside of Cobb County,” according to Cobb DOT director Faye DiMassimo.
Taxpayers feeling outraged by this use of their local and federal taxes may take comfort from Leithead’s assurances. He said, “We’re establishing an identity and a visual gateway to the district that is appropriate for the largest business district in Atlanta. ... I think that in a community of our sophistication and magnitude that appearances and aesthetics make a difference.” He said: “It sends a message that you’re coming to a place where you want to be.”
It’s fine if the CID wants to pay for its “visual gateway.” But here’s the message that needs to be sent: There’s no way to justify spending more than $1 million in federal and county tax money to beautify a bridge when the federal government is $16 trillion in the red and Cobb County’s budget provides no raises for employees.