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Media Coverage
Cost Of Center Is Alarming
March 19, 1999



Friday, March 19, 1999
Section: news
Page: A10
Shawn Masten

RICHMOND - The city will pay $2 million to cover additional costs on a new regional emergency communications center, forcing officials to tap money originally meant to make Richmond's aging city hall earthquake-safe.

Administrators say piecemeal additions to the project by the City Council increased costs, but council members said they were taken aback by the new price tag and want a full accounting of how they could have approved so much extra spending.

"It's not that I don't believe we approved all this but I don't have any recollection of raising the budget by over $2 million," Councilman Tom Butt said.

The increases approved by the council on a case-by-case basis over the past year bring the total cost to more than $10 million. The council originally approved $8.5 million in March 1998 for the new 800-megahertz system to be installed by Ericsson Inc. of Virginia.

To make up the costs, the city will use money originally meant for the earthquake retrofit project at City Hall. The project will be trimmed in size, and the state is chipping in $500,000.

Assistant City Manager Leveron Bryant said the original budget for the communications system didn't take into account development costs and hiring a consultant to manage the project. Bryant contends that the $10 million cost should come as no surprise and that the city has simply "changed how the money has been redistributed."

"We haven't added anything new that has caused the project to cost $2 million more," Bryant said.

But a cost summary presented to the council in a 1997 study session shows that the original $8.5 million budget included about $1 million for development costs. The summary was part of a staff report prepared by Bryant for a Dec. 23, 1997, study session and used by the council as the basis for approving the project.

Asked about the difference, Bryant said, "It must be a mistake."

Councilmen Nat Bates and Butt said they didn't realize the project was costing the city more than $8.5 million. They asked for a full cost breakdown.

"The public ought to know what has occurred in this process," Bates said. "It's the public's money, and they need to know what's going on."

Since the initial contract with Ericsson was signed, the council has approved:

An additional $749,992 to Ericsson to develop eight of the system's nine antenna sites.

$600,000 to Park Place Contractors Inc. to build the system's main site at Nicoll Knob. This contract was added as part of a requirement that local subcontractors get a share of the multimillion-dollar project.

$120,000 to Tom Meyers of Project Advocates to coordinate the project.

The city also has spent about $178,000 to prepare the antenna sites, and it expects to spend about $50,000 more on license fees for the sites.

The new system is being financed with $12.2 million generated from an old Redevelopment Agency debt that was refinanced.

The system will give the city five new radio channels and establish a network of communication among law enforcement and fire agencies and other departments in the cities of Richmond, El Cerrito, Kensington, Hercules and San Pablo. Pinole, which has its own dispatch center, may join in the future.

An accounting of the $2 million "variance" was tucked in the council's agenda packets Tuesday but there was no public discussion. Bates said the report doesn't change his understanding of the costs.

"Some of the money I thought was included in the $8.5 million, like the Meyers contract, the Nicoll Knob contract and the other station improvements. But according to them they're extras," Bates said.