LIHU‘E — Three days waiting for an answer became five months and $28,000 snowballed into $338,500 for an upcoming stretch of the county’s multi-use path in Kapa‘a.
Kaua‘i County Council member Mel Rapozo cast the lone “no” vote Dec. 15 when the seven-member legislative body approved the ratification of a July 28 purchase agreement between the county and Kapa‘a Sands’ association of owners.
“They come to us with this request and we approve it, and then the number comes out to here,” Rapozo said. “It’s embarrassing now, because look at what we’ve approved, and we didn’t even know it.”
The purchase of the 2,134-foot strip of property to become part of Ke Ala Hele Makalae included some amenity-relocation work. The land had a price tag, but the additional labor and capital improvements had no figures attached.
The administration provided the council an estimate this month that accounted for the total cost of the project. It came in 12 times more expensive than originally thought. And the number could have been even higher; Councilman Tim Bynum said the bid was the lowest among four or five others.
Per the agreement, the previous council spent $100,000 for almost 5 percent of an acre fronting Kapa‘a Sands condominiums to extend the bike path in Kapa‘a.
Work to relocate a propane tank, trash bins, erect a six-foot fence, extend the parking lot by two feet, and put in some landscaping and signs was supposed to cost some $28,000. Chair Jay Furfaro said the numbers were “round” but were not to exceed $100,000.
Last winter the council wasn’t approving the contract per se; it was only ratifying it because on the title search the names of some of the condominium owners were wrong.
“What you have before you today is a correction of the documentation to clearly identify the owners of the property, and that’s all that is before this body today,” County Attorney Al Castillo said at the Dec. 15 council meeting.
Still, Rapozo dissented because he was unable to get a “ballpark figure” from County Engineer Doug Haigh.
“I’m going to have to work with my consultant,” Haigh said on Dec. 15. “I can’t get you an answer within an hour. It’s probably going to take me a couple of days.”
Five months later, an email with an answer finally reached the council: $338,500.
Furfaro said cost-control containment measures have yet to be negotiated, and there needs to be some dialogue to prevent this from happening again.
“I think it would be nice to know that we have something that puts that ceiling on that, that this is not a platinum card from American Express, to say it bluntly,” said Furfaro.
The chair said the council “deserves answers,” adding that he was “very concerned” if the county engineer says he can give an answer in three days and doesn’t fulfill it.
“I would much prefer that they say to us, as a body, that they don’t know,” Furfaro said.
A simple phone call or email could’ve told the council how much it would cost, Rapozo said last week when the issue resurfaced on the agenda. “But we didn’t even get that. We waited five months.”
Former council’s ‘blank check’ agreement
The former council body that approved the agreement last year apparently did not foresee that the work estimate would come back this high and signed a purchase agreement without a ceiling on what the county was willing to spend.
“The fact remains, the number needs to be here before we vote,” Rapozo said. “To approve this open-ended blank check is not the way to do business.”
Following the results of the November elections, council changed formation. Reelected council members that approved the original contract are Furfaro, Bynum and Dickie Chang.
“We’ve got an oversight problem,” Furfaro said. “The County Attorney needs to know also, a blank purchase agreement is not the way we want to go.”
Deputy County Engineer Lyle Tabata said the state Department of Transportation — through federal funding — will pay 80 percent of the construction costs for the project, and the county will have to come up with the remaining. He indicated that the initial estimate has come down, but would not disclose how much.
“We are in negotiations,” he said. “It has been significantly reduced, but at this time nothing has been concluded, so I think it’s premature for (me) to divulge the numbers.”
Tabata, responding to a request from Councilman KipuKai Kuali‘i, said he could not commit to give the council within 30 days the numbers of the negotiations.
“This is a Parks (and Recreation Department) project,” said Tabata, adding that the administration has been redirecting all county projects through the Public Works Department, and eventually every Capital Improvement Project will go through them for management, oversight and construction.
Still, many of the administrative decisions come from the Parks and Recreation Department, Tabata said. “We perform at their will.”
If Parks Department leaders say the numbers look out of line, Public Works officials will sit down with the contractor and begin the process of negotiation, he said.
Tabata said it has been a challenge for the contractor to break down the project’s estimate into line items, because the original contract bid did not require such a breakdown.
After the administration questioned the price tag, the contractor went back and reworked the bid, he said.
“The items that you see that are significantly out of line have been challenged,” Tabata said. “Those are the ones that we are working on. In line with that, I comfortably say there’s a significant reduction.”
Furfaro said that “in all fairness to the council,” if the department pledges to give an answer in three days, it’s “fair and reasonable” to send back a notice saying the whole negotiation is being revisited and they won’t be able to fulfill what they have promised.
“That’s part of living aloha,” he said.
Furfaro to ‘work on new ordinance’
Furfaro said he hopes the council will be able to solve the problem by introducing two separate items in the agenda.
“It is the council that approves and provides these significant grants or revenues for the purpose of projects, no one else,” Furfaro said. “That doesn’t seem to come across in an understanding that that responsibility is with us. So to cure that, I’m going work on a new ordinance.”
Furfaro also said he intends to work on another item to see what numbers the administration “actually ended up with,” after an email indicated the consultant or the contractor said there’s room for negotiation.
“I hope I’m clarifying for you folks,” he said. “The two items that I want to put back on are to address the problem so we have some parameters that this doesn’t happen to us again.”
The administration asked council to defer its decision, but council unanimously voted to receive the communication.
• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or lazambuja@ thegardenisland.com.
Kapa‘a Sands facility relocation estimates
Propane tank enclosure: $154,000
Trash bins and enclosure: $85,000
Parking lot expansion: $29,000
Six-foot aluminum fence $24,000
Landscaping and irrigation: $45,000
Total cost of project : $338,500