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Queens Chronicle

Penny-Wise City Contracts Can Cost Millions

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Posted: Thursday, May 10, 2001 12:00 am | Updated: 3:44 pm, Mon Jul 11, 2011.

Mayor Giuliani and his supporters have been credited with streamlining many aspects of city projects so that things get done quicker, cheaper and with less red tape—but a number of recent blunders accompanied by huge price tags show that perhaps some level of standardized bureaucracy is needed in order to make sure we’re not being penny-wise and pound-foolish.

The most recent and most atrocious city contract scandal is the Sports Complex Project in College Point, which has wasted more than $10 million in city funds on what was supposed to have been a no-cost leveling and filling of the 22-acre area.

Three brothers were indicted this week for illegally dumping construction landfill in the area, instead of the clean city-approved fill they were contracted to deliver. They were hired by Enviro-Fill, the company initially hired by the local sports association, which was leasing the site from the city for $1 a year.

Now, obviously, the city didn’t knowingly allow the waste, which contained glass, pipes and other seriously dangerous debris, to be placed in an area that’s to be, among other things, a little league baseball field, but the mayor’s removal of a number of checkpoints in the city contracting process allowed that contaminated debris much easier entry to the College Point site.

Now, not only is the area damaged, the city has spent 10 times more money trying to clean out the new fill than it would have spent if it had watched the process more carefully in the first place.

The mayor’s idea has been to give contracts to the lowest bidder as long as the bidder’s applications and proposals have no glaring flaws. It’s not as though this was a bad idea considering how examples of waste and fraud litter the city’s contract history.

Remember the point made not so long ago when tycoon Donald Trump took over the Wollman Ice Rink renovations in Central Park and had them done for less money in half the time. That’s a lesson we don’t need to learn twice.

But to go too wholeheartedly the other way can be just as embarrassing, as the 10-fold increase at the College Point Sports Complex has shown. That’s not taking into account the cost of disappointing thousands of area children, who were told they were going to have new baseball, soccer and football fields by 1998. It’s also not mentioning the potential risk of serious injury if the hazardous fill hadn’t been noticed in time.

Other pound-foolish contracts include the story of the 217-space garage that was built by the city more than a year ago to ease the parking problem in downtown Jamaica. The only problem is it’s been more than a year and the garage can’t collect a single cent in revenue because it was not built to city specifications.

Several city agencies approved the plans for the garage when it was being erected, but the checkpoints have become so lax that minor details were missed that have resulted in millions in lost revenue and safety infringements that will take close to a million dollars to remedy. This is in addition to the $4 million spent to build the parking garage in the first place.

Two months ago, Giuliani tried to veto a bill requiring stronger monitoring of contracts for police and other city uniforms. The bill was an attempt to cut back on rising incidents of sweatshops in the city.

Giuliani said he’d put a lot of effort into cutting red tape and that this bill would get in the way. Well if someone had gotten in the way of the College Point contract sooner, the city could have saved itself some serious money, heartache and embarrassment.

Welcome to the discussion.