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Walker Eliminated Funding for Inspections of County Buildings in 2008

Supervisors question his safety record and budgetary foresight

Aug. 4, 2010
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“Penny-wise and pound-foolish,” is how Milwaukee County Supervisor Gerry Broderick described the county’s failure to adequately fund and conduct routine inspections of its properties.

Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker had eliminated $150,000 in funding for the countywide buildings assessment program in his 2008 budget.

But following the June tragedy at O’Donnell Park, Walker has allocated $700,000 on no-bid contracts for emergency inspections on county buildings and has proposed to add $1.5 million for inspections in his 2011 budget.

The tragedy—and the two no-bid contracts given to consultants immediately after the fatal accident—has raised questions about the county’s oversight of its facilities.

Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic blasted Walker’s budgeting skills and foresight.

“The reason why we’re in this circumstance is because Scott Walker refused to have an honest conversation about the budget and Milwaukee County’s needs,” Dimitrijevic said. “This man has no record to stand on. What was so shocking to us is that he vetoed the very funding that we sought to do [inspections] and now he has the nerve to talk about presenting a $1.5 million expenditure for these very actions. And he called us ‘political.’ How political is never funding it and now funding it 10 times over?”

For 12 years, the county had maintained a Building Inventory and Assessment Program, within the Department of Transportation and Public Works (DTPW), which typically utilized private contractors to thoroughly assess county facilities internally and externally.

“Our architectural engineers hired an outside firm to do those assessments,” DTPW Director Jack Takerian told the Shepherd on Tuesday.

But Walker cut the $150,000 for the program in his proposed 2008 budget.

The board added that $150,000 back into the budget for “contracted services” to retain the program. But Walker vetoed that amendment, stating that DTPW had sufficient resources to do the work without the money.

The board could not get the two-thirds vote needed to override Walker’s veto.

That wasn’t the first time the board sought to support the program with additional funding.

In the 2007 budget, Supervisor Michael Mayo, worried by the slow pace of inspections, had attempted to increase funding for the program from $150,000 to $596,200. But that amendment failed to pass the county board.

Departmental ‘Evaluations’

Since Walker’s 2008 budget veto, Takerian said individual departments have been responsible for “evaluating” their own buildings. The funding for these evaluations would be taken out of each department’s budget.

According to a list of the most recent assessments of county buildings, which Takerian released to the county supervisors last week, few departmental evaluations have been conducted since the assessment program was abolished.

None appear to have been done in 2010. Only four assessments were conducted in 2009—on the pavilion on Clarke Square, a comfort station in Estabrook Park, a maintenance building in Greenfield Park and a skate shelter in King Park. All of those facilities are overseen by the Parks Department. The last “large chunk” of evaluations, as Takerian put it, was conducted in 2007.

The list doesn’t include information about what inspectors found or whether repairs were needed or completed. Takerian said he hadn’t been asked to provide that information to the board.

Walker has stated that he wants to add $1.5 million to his next budget to resume assessing the county’s facilities. Takerian said that money would go to DTPW’s Architectural and Engineering Division, which had overseen the original assessment program.

“Not all of the county buildings have been assessed,” Takerian said. “The funds we are looking at for 2011 are to get a big chunk of those buildings that have not had assessments done before we start reassessing buildings again.”

Harold Mester, spokesman for Milwaukee County Board Chair Lee Holloway, said supervisors were concerned about the oversight and administration of the building assessments.

“There is no adopted policy for building inspections,” Mester said.

The most recent full assessment of the O’Donnell Park parking structure was conducted in 2004-2005, Takerian said. The list provided to the board states that the structure was last assessed on June 26, 2006.

“Graef came in to do an assessment on some cracking,” Takerian said about the 2006 work. “That would be the last time the building was assessed for something.”

Graef is the outside firm that won a no-bid contract for $300,000 to do faade inspections of the exteriors of county-owned buildings. It is listed as the “engineer of record” on O’Donnell. Inspec Inc. is conducting a thorough inspection of the O’Donnell structure. The cost is estimated to be $400,000.

Although the investigation is still under way, Walker told reporters that investigators have found no likely cause for the accident other than the way the 13-ton concrete panel was hung when the structure was built. After being criticized for arriving at a conclusion before investigators have completed their work, Walker has backtracked from those comments.

Finding the Money

Takerian appeared before the full board of supervisors last Thursday, the first time the board has been briefed on the emergency inspections. He said that roughly 70% of the inspections had been done at that point.

Supervisors questioned the thoroughness of the inspections being done by Graef. In a July 1 memo to Walker and Holloway, Takerian wrote that he had directed Graef to review facades, overhangs and other exterior areas for safety risks. Only buildings that are more than one story with a masonry exterior are being reviewed. Those that have been inspected within the last five years are not being reviewed.

Supervisors said that they wanted a more thorough assessment of buildings—including interiors of facilities—as well as an estimate of the cost.

Supervisors had also attempted to approve an independent investigation of the O’Donnell structure, but failed to get the two-thirds vote needed to suspend the rules and pass a measure before it has been approved by a committee.

Supervisors also questioned how the emergency contracts would be paid for. Cynthia Archer, director of the Department of Administrative Services, said the funds were needed because it was a matter of public safety. She did not explain how the county would come up with the $700,000. By law, the county cannot end the year with a deficit.

Supervisor Dimitrijevic told the Shepherd that DTPW would have to present a corrective action plan to the board to cover the $700,000. That plan could include cuts to programs or even layoffs to cover the emergency expense.

Walker has not indicated how he would pay for the $1.5 million he wants to add to the budget in 2011.


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