Town Hall complex finished near budget

The new Town Hall annex complex in Summerville ended up costing $14.9 million, $700,000 more than town officials originally agreed to.

SUMMERVILLE -- The ballyhooed, criticized Town Hall annex complex ended up costing about what it was supposed to. That revelation, though, won't do much to quiet the grumbles.

The price tag was $14.9 million for a three-story office annex, a four-story parking garage, a retail outlet and renovations to the old Town Hall. That's only slightly more than the $14.6 million bid that won the project, and only about 5 percent more than the $14.2 million that town officials negotiated that bid down to before work started.

The price doesn't include furniture and other touches that cost about $179,000 more -- including $8,700 to outfit the mayor's office and adjoining rooms.

It does include a $56,000 bill for landscaping and irrigation that involved pulling up the rubble that had been underneath a commercial building demolished for the project and replacing it with soil.

The cost overruns worried council members who signed off on them and said they never saw a final accounting. Town staff produced the accounting after being asked by The Post and Courier.

Council members and residents have questioned the money spent on the project, which has been criticized as a misplaced priority for a town that needs to improve services. The issue became a hot coal in the Town Council election in June, when Walter Bailey campaigned on resetting priorities.

With the economic downtown, there are a lot of empty offices in the annex and the original town hall building. That has goaded the controversy along.

"Questions are being asked, and I think the public deserves an answer," said Councilman Ricky Waring, who is mayor pro tem.

Waring said he asked for and never got a final accounting. "(The total spent) is not as bad as what I thought it would be. But it ought to be open to the public as to what kind of money the taxpayers had to spend."

Town staff said that council members did receive final billings on each phase of the project, and that different parts of the project were paid for with different funds. The project was financed with an $8 million bond, $2.4 million from the town's fund balance, or savings, and $5.2 million from the hospitality tax.

The hospitality tax, for example, paid for the furniture. About $400,000 left over from the bond money will be used to pay down the bond.

Town officials did make efforts to cut corners. A $30,000 bid to replace the soil was negotiated down to $21,000, for example. Town Council recently did not go ahead with a proposal to add a cover for a walkway between the annex and parking garage.

In the campaign, Bailey pointed to the $14 million complex and its empty offices as an example of misplaced priorities, a sentiment that was rumbling through the town and no small segment of town employees.

The money would have been better spent on needed services, such as police and firefighting, Bailey said. He won a hotly fought race with 57 percent of the vote.

"You look at Town Hall and there's seven or eight people in there. We're not getting our bang for the buck with Town Hall, the garage or the retail space. That can't be undone, but we can better prioritize in the future," Bailey said in August as council wrestled with the 2010 budget.

He could not be reached for comment for this story.

The new annex "is a project done and a beautiful project. I don't have any regrets about doing it," Waring said. It will serve the future needs of the town for decades. But if council members had known what the economy would do when they launched the project, they might have held off, he said.