Eagle has spent $194,000 on consultants to date in 2017
EAGLE — The town of Eagle has paid out $194,000 to various special outside consultants so far in 2017, a significant sum for a community where the annual operating budget is $5.9 million.
But a look back at Eagle’s recent history shows that total number isn’t unprecedented. In 2012, for example, the town spent more than $452,000 on outside consultants. Back in 2014, however, the total amount spent was $26,000.
Not all of that spending comes from the town’s general fund. Often consultant payments come from other town funds — the water or open space funds, for example, that are specifically set up to fund both planning and executive of future plans.
There is a direct correlation between the amount Eagle spends on outside expertise and its upcoming capital improvements plans.
For example, back in 2012, $397,000 of the $452,000 was paid to SGM Engineering to design Eagle’ proposed Lower Basin Treatment Plant.
As a small town with an accompanying small staff, Eagle doesn’t have the expertise in house to handle various large-scale projects such as designing a treatment plant.
“The town has spent money on outside consultants periodically for as long as I’ve been a member of the board,” said Eagle Mayor Anne McKibbin. “I don’t see that has changed significantly over the recent years, though certainly the types of consultants and magnitude of tasks that have been asked of them has varied, as the needs of the town have varied.”
Dollars in 2017
Looking at consultant expenditures in 2017, the Eagle River Park project is taking up the largest share of the consultant spending — more than $147,000 of the $194,000 total. The consultant money is coming from the sales tax capital improvement fund — money generated from a special 0.5 percent sales tax approved by voters in 2016 to fund the river park construction and improvements to other parks around town.
The Eagle River Park project is a 4.3-acre park including two main components: the in-stream design and construction of a new whitewater park, and the upland park parcel on the north side of the Colorado River. The Eagle River Park project borders the Eagle River near the Eagle County Fairgrounds and Chambers Park.
The consultant spending includes everything from nearly $99,000 to the design team of Alpine Engineering and Zehren and Associates to $1,000 to Scott Willoughby for communications and public relations.
Between 2015 and 2017, the company tasked with designing the in-stream features for the park, S20 Design and Engineering, has been paid more than $120,000. Consultant Caroline Bradford was paid more than $43,000 for river park work between 2016 and 2017. Additional consultant costs associated with the project include surveying, environmental consultation and construction management services.
Needing the help
When contacted about consultant costs, members of the Eagle Town Board noted the town has to call in help at times.
“I think we have been careful stewards of the community’s dollars,” said town board member Paul Witt. “We evaluate the requests and needs thoroughly both at the staff level and at the board level.”
“Many of the projects that the town is undertaking (such as the Lower Basin Water Treatment plant and the Eagle River Park) have a much higher degree of complexity and regulation than projects may have had in the past,” Witt said. “General knowledge of how to get things done isn’t cutting it as much anymore — we need people with specific knowledge and skill sets to get us through the intensive scrutiny of our municipal projects and avoid potentially costly and time-consuming errors.”
Town board members also noted that Eagle is short-staffed these days. The town previously had three engineers on staff and for several months between 2016 and 2017, Eagle had no one in the post. The town hired a consultant engineer at the beginning of this year and recently filled the town engineer staff position.
Town Board member Mikel “Pappy” Kerst agreed with McKibbin that over the years the community has used outside consultants on special projects. He also noted that in the past, Eagle had employees on staff who where capable of doing some of the work that is now going to outside consultants.
“As of this date, we are running with less staff than in the past, making the need for consultants being used today in order to keep staff doing what they have been tasked to do,” Kerst said.
He also said bringing in consultants keeps the town from working staff members to the “point of no return.”
“If we keep pushing staff and not allowing them to keep up their daily duties, we lose on positive productivity,” Kerst said.
The town’s 2016 and 2017 consultant spending does include a slightly different focus than previous years. Prior to that time, consultant money was largely spend on engineering, design or speciality tasks. For instance, in 2013, the town spent more than $13,000 on its search for a new town manager.
In 2016, the town spent more that $57,000 on items listed as “professional administrative services.” In 2017, expenditures such as $1,860 to Clete Saunier for a “capitol improvements program” and nearly $10,00 to Resource Trends for “community outreach and branding” are included.
“We have spent consulting dollars with different vendors, but I believe the purposes are substantially the same,” said Witt of the recent consultant spending.
“When we were in the midst of designing the Lower Basin Treatment Plant and the (Eby Creek Road) roundabouts, we spent significant funds with engineering consultants on those projects. Recently, we’ve been spending significant funds on Eagle River Park, so I think I’m seeing the same trends in spending as before.”
Bang for the buck
On the whole, the town board members asserted that Eagle turns to consultants when they are needed, making those expenditures money well spent.
“An outside consultant can often provide goods or services, or specialty knowledge and skills, in a timely and efficient manner, allowing existing town staff to carry on with the remainder of their duties in service to the community,” McKibbin said.
“When there is a need for outside expertise, or a need for short-term support for existing staff, it can be a very wise use of our dollars.”
“The staff that works for our town is not only civic-minded, but they care very deeply about the work they do,which translates in working very hard,” said town board member Matt Solomon.
“I see that the town is in the middle of specialized projects which do provide a need for outside consultation and contractors to both alleviate the heavy burden placed on staff and to fill in the gaps for the one-off nature of these projects.”
With that said, Solomon noted the town probably needs to do a better job explaining why consultant expenditures are important.
“We probably could have planned and communicated better throughout our budget process so that it was understood more clearly what and why we appear to have so much outside consultation. But I do feel that the town is on a good course and we are being fiscally responsible with taxpayer dollars,” Solomon said.