The Metro Council Wednesday approved a $300,000 supplemental appropriation to complete the fencing around the Mosquito Abatement and Rodent Control agency’s new $11 million facilities, which has been under construction at the Baton Rouge Metro Airport for more than four years.
But the measure drew stiff opposition from council members Dwight Hudson and Scott Wilson, who have serious concerns about ballooning consultants’ costs associated with the project and what they say is excessive spending by an agency that has its own dedicated funding source.
“I think there are some issues out there,” Wilson says. “These are professional services contracts that do not need to be bid out and there are red flags going up. A lot of money is being spent.”
Wilson is referring specifically to more than $1.2 million, which has gone over the past four years to Beard International, the program manager overseeing construction of the project for MARC.
The engineering firm—headed by Gary Beard, a former state legislator and former member of the Airport Commission who is a current airport contractor—originally had a $478,000 contract with MARC, according to Hudson, who notes those costs have tripled.
“My issue is that supplemental agreements for the program management of the mosquito abatement building are out of control and going unchecked,” he says.
Of the $300,000 approved Wednesday, for instance, $69,000—or nearly 25%—will go to Beard International for program management. RCL Architecture will get $14,000 for design. The remaining $217,000 will cover materials and labor to construct the security fence, which will have a gate, surveillance cameras, lighting and controls.
“Sixty-nine thousand dollars to manage construction of a fence?” Wilson asks. “This is taxpayer money and I think we need to get a handle on it.”
The council, of course, is the body responsible for keeping the spending in check. But council members have been reluctant to question MARC’s spending over the years, though that appears to be changing.
Part of the problem, say Hudson and Wilson, is that the agency has its own dedicated 1.2-mill property tax, which generates some $8.7 million a year. The Metro Council typically does not deny agencies the ability to spend their own money, though it could clamp down or move to roll back the millage.
Beard justifies the expense and the $1.2 million his firm has made off the project in recent years, citing a variety of challenges the project has encountered.
“I don’t think it’s a lot,” he says, noting that the MARC did a study after his firm was selected several years ago through a professional services procurement process and found to be 20% lower than other firms vying for the management contract.
Todd Walker, who heads MARC, defends the spending and says he believes Beard International has helped keep costs of the project down, despite the delays and overruns.
“I need someone to make sure construction is done right,” he says. “This is an $11 million project we’re still working on, trying to finish, it’s had a host of problems … and Beard has saved us lots of money just by being onsite. He is a contractor at the airport who knows what the issues are out there. … He has given me so much more than what he has been paid for. I need these people to help me.”