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City of El Paso implements
changes to improve
Capital Improvement Program
The City of El Paso is once again reaffirming its commitment to restoring public trust by being transparent and making changes to address concerns raised by City Council last summer when they hired City Manager Tommy Gonzalez.
When Gonzalez arrived council asked him to assess certain areas and develop solutions, if necessary, to address their concerns related to the City’s:
- Fund balance
- Revenue projections
- Ballpark subsidies
- Capital improvement projects
“Council was justified in having concerns in all these areas. We continue to find deficiencies in operational issues and organizational processes and procedures,” Gonzalez said. “An audit requested by council in the fall of 2014 has allowed us to identify and address issues with the fund balance. Revenue projection concerns were taken care of through our new budget process, which is now tied to the City’s strategic plan. Our Chief Financial Officer successfully resolved ballpark subsidy issues. Where we are continuing to face challenges is with our capital improvement projects.”
The Engineering and Construction Management Department was recently reorganized recently to overhaul the department and to add additional resources and personnel to strengthen the Capital Improvement Program and to address contractor issues, payments, performance and delivery on projects.
Significant changes include:
- Adding additional engineering staff
- Providing weekly updates to Mayor and Council on capital improvement projects
- Creating the CIP Team consisting of several departments that are receiving the completed projects. The change has allowed for operations and maintenance costs to be included in the projects, something that was not factored into the plans in 2012.
- Implementing a CIP Quarterly Report to update Council and to enhance transparency and communication on projects
- Initiating an internal audit that was conducted in September 2014 to assess the Capital Improvement Program budget process
“What we’ve found as we dived deep into the CIP operations is that there is more work to be done. Through our reorganization in this area, we are addressing deficiencies related to operations and procedures,” Chief Financial Officer Mark Sutter said.
Effective immediately, Airport Director Monica Lombrana will serve as an on-loan administrator to the Capital Improvements Department while continuing with her airport duties. Her extensive experience with state and federal grants and reimbursements will be an asset to the Capital Improvements Department, which manages projects funded through state and federal grants.
The special assignment of Ms. Lombrana comes on the heels of City Manager Gonzalez recently requesting an internal audit to examine all aspects involving city construction projects, including those funded partly through state and federal grants.
“I had requested the audit on July 1 because I have been asking staff for improved tracking of all documentation related to construction projects. Now, after learning that we had errors in our submittals seeking state and federal funding I am even more confident that this audit is clearly justified and necessary,” Gonzalez said.
The City was recently informed of errors in documentation submitted for projects through the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). On Wednesday, July 15, 2015, the City for the first time received a document from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), which it had shared with the media prior to providing it to the City, indicating that the City is pending approximately $21 million in reimbursements from TxDOT.
A review by the City shows the pending reimbursements based on the state’s Letter of Authority for the projects are closer to $9 million, not $21 million and the City is aggressively pursuing 100 percent reimbursement.
For example, as per the state’s Letter of Authority (LOA) the Country Club project total is $14.7 million, which includes the city’s match. The City is pending $3.9 million in reimbursements from TxDOT not $11.3 million.
Country Club Project
“TxDOT will continue working closely with the City of El Paso to assist them in obtaining their pending reimbursements for these important projects,” El Paso District Engineer Bob Bielek said.
Additionally, the City is bringing in two engineering and consulting firms, Freese and Nichols and HNTB, to assess the Capital Improvement Department’s policies and procedures and recommend sound solutions to improve their operational efficiencies and delivery of project management, and to manage the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) submittal process for transportation projects.
“The community trusted me with the responsibility to change the way city business was done,” Mayor Oscar Leeser said. “I knew there were business practices that needed changing and for that reason, shortly after taking office, I requested a full audit to help identify issues that needed immediate attention. Everyone wants instant change, but the issues we have now have been in existence well over three years and corrective action and implementation cannot occur overnight. Additionally, as the audit progresses I know we might find more issues that will also need to be addressed. One major change that we have done is to hire a new city manager with a strong financial background, who has the ability to lead the City and to make the necessary changes for the City to prosper.”
What a mess. We can only hope that the new team can clean it up.
We deserve better.