Taxpayers foot $1 million bill for 'visual gateway' beautification
by Don McKee
September 14, 2012 12:54 AM | 1779 views | 6 6 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Don McKee
Don McKee
Taxpayers will now foot most of the bill for a $1 million “visual gateway” beautification project on the Cumberland Boulevard bridge over Interstate 75.

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.
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Don McKee
September 15, 2012
Readers, please note: According to Mr. Leithead and the county, no county taxpayer funds are involved in this project. Under the federal grant rules, the county administers the contract, and thus approved the engineering fee but the money is provided by the CCID, and its funds come voluntarily from its 180 members. This will be further clarified and corrected in Monday's column.

September 16, 2012
Actually, if I am interpreting the information in this coulumn correctly, $800,000 of taxpayer money is involved in this project.

Also, while it may be true that the county is required to administer the project, that "in kind" administration service provided by the county staff is obviously paid for by county taxpayer dollars.

So while Mr. Leithead may claim NO taxpayer funds are involved, I think he knows better and is being purposely obtuse and misleading.

At the very least, in order for Mr. Leithead to be truthful, the CID should reimburse the county for the cost that the county incurs in "administering" this project.

As far as the $800,000 is concerned, that is something that the state and feds should deal with. If that tax money were being used for BASIC transportation infrastructure improvements that improved traffic congestion, safety or air quality, then there is no problem.

The fact that it is being used to attach some decorative baubles to a bridge is a very questionable use of increasingly scarce tax dollars.

September 14, 2012
Aren't these some of the same people who rant about federal deficits and a federal government that is too big?

Thanks for the story so we know what is going on. We can't build roads, we can't fund schools, but we can spend a million to beautify a Cumberland bridge and Georgia can spend $300 million to build a football stadium.

We still don't have politicians who get it, local, state, or federal.
Fed $ Not Free
September 14, 2012
Folks are acting as if Federal Dollars are somehow "Free". DOT and CID seem to think that if we can get Federal Money we should not care how much it costs.

News Flash - That Federal money comes from our taxes too. It's all our money, and it should all be treated with great care.
September 14, 2012
If the CID's want to use their own self generated tax dollars for aesthetics or other "feel good" projects or enhancements that is fine. It's their money and their decision.


Utilizing county, state or federal dollars generated by taxpayers other than those in the CID self taxing district for anything other than basic infrastructure improvements should be prohibited.

Usual Spin
September 14, 2012
This whole thing is more than absurd. And the increased fee to the "prequalified under federal rules" design firm just lets you know how involvement from government or maybe a Chamber of Commerce or maybe one like the CID can increase costs for the taxpayers.

And they wonder why citizens/voters are fed up and apathetic!
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