Entries Tagged 'Public Utilities' ↓

Was fuzzy math used in bid tabulation for 6th Street Bunker Bridge?

There has been much discussion and consternation over the bridge. Two years ago we replaced the 8th street bridge with more decorative elements for $8 million. So how is it that the new rebuild will be $21 million? Some argue that it has to do with the multiple steps in this rebuild. Some argue inflation. Others have told me that since it is ARPA money they need to shove it out the door. There has been requests (not by me) that the Council does it’s own independent audit and investigation (they have this ability in the charter) or that the Feds should look into RICO violations. Others in the private engineering sector have all come to the same conclusion; this ‘deal’ probably didn’t magically come together by itself but with collusion and pressure from certain downtown developers and contractors.

Rumors be damned!

One of the sticking points the Public Works Director Mark Cotter used to trick the city council into voting for the Bunker Bridge was that is was unsafe. Holes have been blown into that argument;

And in the most recent inspection of the Sixth Street Bridge, done in 2020, inspectors assigned its overall structural integrity a 4 based on a 0-9 grading system, according to a review of data by The Dakota Scout. While not great, a 4 means a bridge “meets minimum tolerable limits to be left in place as is,” according to federal criteria.

But it didn’t take Joe and Jon needling thru Federal Safety inspections to see the obvious; if this bridge is so unsafe why have they allowed large heavy machinery and building materials to go across this bridge all summer? Even Councilor Neitzert pointed out at the meeting, if it is so bad, why don’t you close it?

I decided to dig thru the bid tabulation sheet to see if I could find any wiggle room, this is what I found;

• Mobilization: $4,341,000

• Temporary Works: $2,610,000

I have no doubt these are actual expenses but I find that the two biggest expenditures in this bid are NOT broken down. This would be a very easy place to pad the bid. I think council needs to ask the contractor to break this down for them.

• Class A45 Concrete, Bridge Deck: $4,914,420

Concrete will be a big expenditure for this bridge, but with the way that prices are fluctuating it would be hard to say this is actual. Heck, it could be more or this number could also be padded.

I also would like to go into some smaller numbers that really make you scratch your head;

• Benches: 3 at $4,000 each

Looks like I need to get into the steel bench making business!

• Relocate LSS Monument Sign: $25,000

Seems the sign relocation business is very lucrative also (they probably run a side business making benches).

• Sprinkler System: $56,000

Just in case the bike trail catches on fire and doesn’t spread to the concrete bridge.

• Water Meter & Backflow Assembly with Enclosures: 2 at $7,500 each.

Not sure if they are planning on opening a laundromat or spray park on the bridge itself?

• Waterfowl Grazing Control: $4,700

You might as well throw this money in a burn barrel, because whatever they are doing currently on this part of the bike trail downtown ISN’T WORKING!!!!!!

Not to mention how many more millions will we have to endure with change orders? There have been rumors that the Water Reclamation Plant is extremely over budget due to change orders. But hey, we needed a dented up entertainment facility more then clean water.

Sioux Falls 6th Street Bridge Project could have been broken up into smaller projects

Some may ask why the city even has an engineering department. Well, for starters they identify projects and determine the best way forward to tackle the project. At least they used to.

Building anything big like a bridge, a swimming pool or an Events Center, you likely would use several subcontractors. The contractor chose to do the bridge project awarded by the council last night on a 6-2 vote (Neitzert and Starr dissenting) will likely have to job out different subcontractors to complete the work that includes demolition, utility work and actually constructing the bridge. The engineering department could have easily broke this project up to make it more appealing to bidders and probably would have saved the city millions.

It wasn’t just the incompetence of the administration and the city council that approved this blindly, it was an utter failure of the Public Works department to NOT take another approach to this to save taxpayers money.

Then there are the questionable and cozy relationships certain contractors have with the city, and that was on full display last night when the council approved this 100% cost overrun with only ONE bid. (Councilors Merkouris and Barranco also changed their votes the last minute I’m assuming to save the Mayor from casting the tie-breaker, which he would have broke and approved).

The precedent set last night by this council and administration was not good and the genie is now fully out of the bottle. Infrastructure projects in Sioux Falls are going to become very, very expensive moving forward.

Is the City of Sioux Falls violating ordinance when plowing streets?

It doesn’t fail, when you run a city blog as long as I have, whenever it snows I hear about the removal. I have come to the realization that most people are being nit-picky, but the latest blowback is concerning.

SNOWGATES. By ordinance the city has to use them, unless they decide not to. I know, seems like a pretty big out. During and before the petition drive, Staggers and especially Stehly did extensive research on them, and unless the snow is super wet they work well up to almost 20 inches. The city continues to use a mulligan on them, but they could have been easily used the last two times, which brings us to another problem;

CLEARING INTERSECTIONS. One of the benefits of having snowgates is clearing intersections when the north/south and east/west streets are cleared, instead of creating a massive windrow they can be alleviated immediately.

But one of the glaring problems is this;

Looks like the city is supposed to be clearing snow curb to curb.

I have also heard the city has scaled back on private contractor use. I am not opposed to that, and would rather see city union employees getting the OT instead of a private contractor, but you wonder why this relationship has changed?

Isn’t life so wonderful that the only thing we have to bitch about with local government is how they take the white crap away?

I have often looked at things like public transit and snow removal as basic economic development. When people can safely get to work and make wages that’s a good thing. You kind of wonder how many folks were either terminated or reprimanded during this past storm because they couldn’t make it to work?

Local government is easy. Collect taxes, provide essential services.

Denver voters to decide if city pays for sidewalk maintenance

This isn’t something new. When councilor Staggers was still alive we had many discussions about doing a local ballot initiative to force the city to trim the trees in the parking strip and maintain city owned sidewalks abutting private property;

They will get to decide whether to shift the responsibility of maintaining sidewalks from individual property owners to the city. The proposal on next week’s ballot would also impose a tax on property owners, to help maintain the city’s current sidewalks and add them in the many parts of town where they’re missing.

The initiative we discussed was similar. If passed, it would be up to the city council and public works to decide on an additional front assessment fee based on the square footage of your sidewalk and boulevard.

The ballot measure would charge property owners based on how much of their land runs along a street, and what type of street it faces. The measure would include discounts for owners in poorer neighborhoods. Proponents say that a typical family living in a single-family house would pay about $9 a month for the improvements. Of course, people with corner lots, or businesses located downtown, could pay more.

Sioux Falls is littered with bad public sidewalks. I think a better approach is to just have the city fix it and we reimburse the costs through our front assessment.

Marshall surveyed 16 cities last year to see how much information they had about their streets and sidewalks. All of the cities kept meticulous records on where potholes appeared, and they reported being able to fill those within days. But most had no comprehensive information about the conditions of their sidewalks. Washington was the only city that provided an average response time for fixing sidewalks, and it was 270 days, Marshall said.

Kind of sounds familiar. While our pedestrian and biking infrastructure crumbles the city is busy filling potholes that have to be refilled multiple times (instead of just building better roads).

“It’s not sidewalks as the target. It’s improving walkability,” Kraft said. “It’s increasing active transportation. Sidewalks and connected sidewalk networks are a means for getting there.”

Exactly.

I also think new retail businesses in Sioux Falls should be required to put a small bike rack in front of their business. If businesses are required to have so many parking spaces they should also be required to provide bicycle parking.

City of Sioux Falls files Water Reclamation Lawsuit, but who knew?

Last night the Argus Leader put up a story about the lawsuit and how the city is suing for ‘millions of dollars’ in damages and loses. Basically the city contracted with a company to install a system that would suck nasty gas particles from reclamation to power a generator to save electrical costs at the plant.

Sounds like a great idea. But it didn’t work.

Where the story gets bizarre is the timeline.

The whole process started in 2015 and was installed by 2017. The city realized right away that it wasn’t working and since the company has not resolved the issue, they are suing.

Makes sense.

But even if you give the company a year to resolve the problems (2018) why has it taken 4 years to decide to sue? (we still don’t know the outcome of the failed geo-thermal HVAC system at the administration building – probably safe to assume the taxpayers ate that $300K F’up)

I asked a city mole why we are hearing this from the Argus and not the city? Wouldn’t the city at least want to put a press release out about the pending litigation before a surprise story appears in the paper?

This person said they were unsure if many people in leadership even knew about it.

HUH?

I’m still digging around on that statement because if it is true how does the city file a lawsuit seeking millions in damages without knowing they filed it? Did the mayor know? Did the lead city attorney know? Did the council know? Did the public works director know? Did the guy who cleans the mayor’s toilet know? Bueller? Bueller?

Maybe they did and just didn’t bother telling us. Maybe they wanted the Argus to crack this nut?

But this isn’t like Joe Sixpack getting sued over some bushes and piles of shingles in his backyard. This is a long strung out process with millions in taxpayer money wasted. Oh, that’s right, the city is good at those sort of things, at the end of the day we will probably end up paying them a settlement 🙂

But you have to wonder, did a subordinate file the suit (or hire outside counsel to do so) without anyone in leadership knowing? Well folks, that is how cruise control government works, let the minions worry about the lawsuits so it frees up more time to write children’s books.

When was Mayor TenHaken going to tell the council and public about this?

So I have been getting several calls today about what Poops said about the Wastewater Treatment Plant in this interview yesterday;

TenHaken says city is trying to remain cognizant of rising inflation

But as he looked toward the next year, he said the city is also trying to remain cognizant of rising inflation and that many people are dealing with “incredible monetary tension” at the moment as they consider any sort of city fees or rate increases.

It’s hitting the city, too. TenHaken said groundbreaking on the 
expansion of the city’s wastewater plant has been postponed as “historic price escalations” began piling up.
“We’re not ready to break ground yet,” TenHaken said, “because we still got a lot of pencil sharpening to do now based on the price escalation we’re seeing.”


To be honest with you, it surprised me also. The city has bonded $260 Million dollars for the plant, and has been working on it (not sure what the groundbreaking is about). The city has been spending the money and construction has begun. I look at this project as essential for growth, and it should have been started 10 years ago. Why didn’t that happen? Well because Huether put it off so he could bond for the Midco, City Admin, Bunker Ramp and Events Center. Ten Haken continued with the Bunker Ramp and has been handing out TIFs and other Booty Prizes like a drunken pirate, including $10 million last night to DSU.

There is absolutely no reason this project should be stalled and the contractors need to be held to their bid obligations. You also have to take into account that this department in the city is funded mostly by FEES and not taxes because it is an enterprise fund, and our fees have been drastically raised to help pay the bonds on this. If we need to take money from the 2nd penny to finish it, we have to do it, plain and simple.

Still curious why the public and council have not been alerted about a pause on a $260 million dollar essential infrastructure project? Oh, I forgot, it’s that transparency thing the administration hates so much.

City of Sioux Falls Online Utility payment site has been down for around week

I have been hearing from several citizens that you are unable to pay your utility bill online. The site is NOT working.

I guess I am not certain what is happening, but when it comes to the city collecting one of their biggest fees, they would get their poop in a group. Maybe Innovation Director II will step in a fix it . . . if they can find him.

Should we Scrap Public Transit for E-Bikes in Sioux Falls?

My little slice of Heaven

I made this joke a couple of months ago to some people, “Maybe the city should just sell SAM and buy current transit riders an E-Bike.”

Imagine my surprise when I heard about this NY Times Article today;

I’m no stranger to bike commuting, I have been doing it on and off, depending on the job since 1993. But like the article mentions, you get sweaty. I have been putting off getting an E-Bike, because up until this point, I don’t think many models are worth a crap (there are only about 3-5 brands that are worth a damn) and I have quite the non-ebike collection now, mostly cruisers I have fixed up or saved from the junk pile that are wonderful for leisure rides and short commutes and as I lovingly call ‘My Children’.

My 1957 Schwinn ‘Cotton Candy’

I first started with an E-Scooter (that only rides on the streets) 2 years ago, which I love. But it is heavy and you cannot pedal it.

E-Coco, made in Turkey

So after visiting San Diego in May and riding a certified throttle E2 I was sold and finally narrowed it down to my Ariel Rider (top pic). The bike I chose is not for everyone. It has a center bar and is made for shorter people. But it rides and handles like a motorcycle, and I won’t even tell you the speed I get out of it, but I have been riding everyday since I got it a month ago and it is amazing and the charge is good for 40 miles. The only thing I can suggest for you is to do your research (I watched hours of video reviews and read tons of data about batteries and motors). I don’t see myself driving my car at all next summer except for when it is raining (but this is an all-weather bike you can ride through most weather events except for like a blizzard or ice storm). Other brands like RAD and Himiway are also year round E-Bikes that are actually very affordable and tough as nails. The other advantage of having a bike VS. a car is that it can be included on your homeowners or renters insurance.

The ride that sold me on an E2

So how would it change our perception of Public Transit in Sioux Falls?

I’m not naive, I realize that there are many people who ride SAM that cannot bike or walk to work. But what if we reduced the size of SAM to targeted pickups and simply buy anyone who qualifies a good E-bike with a tool kit and access to affordable parts and a trade-in program? It would be life changing and you might even be able to diversify the workforce in Sioux Falls. If the city bought durable E-Bikes at a bulk rate they could probably get the bikes for under $1,000 a piece. They could probably even get a Federal Transportation grant for it out of the infrastructure bill. You could also exchange the FREE bike for a one-time volunteer opportunity to pick up trash along the river and bike trail or any other number of community projects.

Here is an example, through Federal housing grants it already costs around $300K to build one multi-family home in Sioux Falls. Can you imagine how many working people you would impact if you spent half that on FREE E-bikes Instead? It would be enormous. You could also set the program up so they could trade the bikes in for an upgraded model in a couple of years and make sure the bikes are specially marked from being sold to Pawn Shops, etc.

There are a lot of details to be worked out and YES some people may abuse the system but I can tell you from my experience of getting on a true E2 for the first time in California, once you ride one, you are sold. Many of these bikes can also fold up and be very compact for a small living space, and like my model, the batteries are detachable for recharging in case you have to store it outside. Let’s just say besides saving public tax dollars in transit costs it gives recipients of these bikes enormous FREEDOM they did not have before standing and waiting for the bus.

I think when it comes to commuting to work in Sioux Falls, we really need to think outside the box, and big clunky buses really are NOT cutting it anymore.

I grew up always having a bike, and I can’t imagine what it would be like NOT having one now, especially to someone who is working poor and cannot afford a vehicle. Instead of blowing millions on parking ramps, tennis courts and ice ribbons, maybe we should be investing in reliable transportation for workers. Just a thought.

Billion dollar permit record in Sioux Falls happened by pouring gasoline on a fire and massive property tax increases

As I have been saying for years, we are breaking these records by ignoring affordable housing, handing out millions in tax rebates and TIFs and including publicly funded projects while raising property taxes a record amount.

If you read the article you see that two large chunks of permitting were projects that received millions in TIF money and another large chunk was public projects like the water treatment plant and the public safety center.

I have often argued that permits should be separated into PUBLIC PROJECTS and COMMERCIAL PROJECTS.

Private Commercial projects build economic growth, but when they are propped up by massive tax rebates it’s just putting gasoline on the fire. As for Public Projects, those are funded by the taxpayers as investments in infrastructure and should NOT be considered towards the permitting financials as part of economic growth. Sure, we have to build these facilities because of growth, but it also means our taxes are going up to do so while handing out tax breaks to the very developers fueling the uncontrollable growth. It is counter productive and simply growth for growth sakes instead measured, calculated slower growth.

I would love to see the city stop giving TIFs for Korean owned egg roll factories and parking ramps and start applying them to neighborhoods. Or better yet abolish TIFs all together and simply invest tax dollars in neighborhoods by encouraging the construction of more affordable housing through other tax incentives. Instead recently the city code enforcers bombarded neighborhoods in the central district with pink spray paint and violation notices for city owned sidewalks. What a great way to prop up our central neighborhoods by fining citizens to fix city owned property (more on this story in the near future).

Recently CountCilor Alex ‘Expert Economist’ Jensen suggested on CityLink that the way to solve our workforce and housing issues is by inviting people to work in Sioux Falls but to live in towns around us like Tea, Hartford, Dell Rapids, etc. Yeah, that’s an awesome way to build a solid tax base 🙁 and this guy works at a bank!

I would also like to see separating commercial and public permits. They don’t represent the same thing and shouldn’t be held up together. It’s like saying you are the championship BBQ’r in your own backyard and buying yourself a trophy. The city saying they broke records by including infrastructure projects they approved and we are paying for through higher taxes is putting the thumb on the scale.

Don’t get me wrong, economic development is good, but let’s be honest about the numbers and where the money is coming from (mostly taxpayers) and let’s start investing in neighborhoods, local businesses and people – then you will see true economic development we can be proud of because you can’t live in a parking ramp, police firing range or an egg roll.

Did the Sioux Falls City Council set themselves up for a discrimination complaint?

The city council bowed down to the garbage haulers last night essentially allowing them to charge a valet fee to pick up garbage by your house if you can’t carry it to the end of the driveway (Councilor Neitzert and Starr voted against the measure). So not only will cans be blowing all over the streets moving forward, they will probably remain there all week since the city really has no enforcement.

One company already told a person today that the valet service would be $17 extra a month even if you have a disability. Some have already been discussing if this is an ADA violation discriminating against handicapped and elderly folks. We will see the complaints coming.

Also, as Councilor Starr pointed out last night, Kiley’s Amendment didn’t get a required 24 hour notice to the council a rule that Kiley and Erickson have squawked about in the past when other councilors have not followed the rule. In fact the city attorney is the one who thinks this rule should be followed even though he remained silent about it last night.

I understand the haulers complaints about gas and labor issues, but the haulers already have the power to raise rates, they just wanted the council to validate it for them.

I have argued that common sense could easily fix many of these issues and actually lower our rates without getting rid of the private service or valet. Two things I have suggested are setting up sectors and days when garbage can be picked up during the week in a specific neighborhood and stop charging the haulers tipping fees unless they go over a certain tonnage or are dropping trash from other communities. The first idea has actually been thrown around for awhile and would save the haulers on fuel and labor. The second idea has probably not been discussed but makes sense. The taxpayers already own the landfill and pay for it’s maintenance. We also make money from the methane and other materials we sell. It doesn’t make sense for the city to charge a private hauler tipping fees then have them turn around and charge the consumer for dropping garbage off at a facility we own. It’s like putting a parking meter in your driveway.

The council should have voted for Neitzert’s original amendment to leave it alone and discussed putting together a task force to explore other options to save money. Neitzert said it best last night, what we currently have now is a ‘community standard’ we should be proud of. Once again, the rubber stampers took the easy cruise control government route that will make service more expensive and messier without solving the root causes. I’m surprised Carnegie didn’t explode last night with all the DUMB on the DIAS.


There is also a rumor circulating that an open meetings violation will be filed since public input was NOT allowed during the meeting on two items (Club David’s liquor license, and Covid study). Both were pulled from the consent agenda and the Chair of the meeting, Mayor TenHaken, did not request public input, and neither did the clerk or other councilors.