What fire station construction in the Treasure Valley shows about fiscal responsibility

Lindsay Atkinson Articles

Two Treasure Valley cities are wrapped up in similar predicaments.

In 2014, Boise passed a bond measure to fund work on five fire department projects. The bond was to cover the cost of four fire-station renovations and the construction of an all-new fire training center.

At the time, the projected cost was $17 million. Today, officials predict a $34 million price tag. Moreover, in 2014 the city pledged project completion by early 2018, but now officials have pushed completion into 2022—a whopping four years past the original target.

Boise public officials are not alone in their inaccuracies.

In July of 2017, the city of Meridian announced a plan to construct a new fire station in the southern portion of the city. At the time, planners pegged fall 2018 as the completion date.  But, construction crews have yet to turn over a single shovel of dirt on the project. Further, city officials say the original $4.7 million price tag, already low due to cooperation with the Meridian Rural Fire District, will not cover costs.

A quick glance at the two projects reveals sloppy projections by government officials. And, thanks to that sloppiness, taxpayers will have to contribute more to see these projects completed.

Meridian based its fire station cost estimate on prior constructions that used the same contractor throughout the design and build process. However, the proposed station depends on different contractors for different stages of its construction. This faulty logic has significantly contributed to the inaccurate cost projection.

Boise calculated its estimates based on intentions to remodel most stations but, afterwards, decided to rebuild stations instead—a far costlier process. Also, the city estimated costs on construction that took place during the Great Recession, when labor and material costs were much lower than they are now.

Both cities have chosen to respond to their inaccurate cost projections by delaying project completion, but that only perpetuates the inflated costs. This is not a fiscally responsible decision.

Local governments need to be held accountable for their cost projections and project timelines. This focus on fire stations alone shows the growing gap between cost projections and cost reality. Government projections need improved, in order to close this gap.