Transit center is back on council table

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published January 16, 2012


The Troy City Council is taking another look at a regional transit center after a councilman asked members to consider approving a contract capped at $6.2 million.

Councilman Dane Slater proposed that the resolution be considered at council’s Jan. 9 meeting, but pulled it because Councilman Wade Fleming was out of town on a family emergency. The council will consider the matter in a special meeting called for Jan. 17.

The council last decided on the matter in three separate votes Dec. 19. The final vote — approval of the architect contract to begin work on an $8 million facility — failed 3-4. Mayor Janice Daniels, Fleming and councilmen Doug Tietz and Dave Henderson opposed it, citing ongoing operational costs, low current ridership and the use of federal money.

In an earlier motion that evening, Fleming had proposed capping the cost of the center at $5 million, then $6 million, which received no support.

Troy City Manager John Szerlag had stated that the Dec. 19 date for a council decision on the matter was the “drop-dead” date because the project must be completed within two years after the federal money was awarded last October. Construction costs incurred after October of 2013 would be the city’s responsibility.

A number of residents and Daniels blasted Szerlag at the Jan. 9 council meeting for providing what they said was misleading information about the drop-dead date, in light of the matter being before the council again.

“It was disingenuous to say that Dec. 19 was a drop-dead date,” resident John Witt said.

Witt described the transit center as a “boondoggle project for which there was no demand, a transit center to nowhere and an outpost connected to nothing.”

Resident Fred Eckhout said that continuing to “dither over the transit center and continuing to discuss it runs afoul of information (presented).”

“I have no confidence in the city manager anymore,” resident James Grix said.

Resident James Savage said he wasn’t surprised that the matter comes before council again. “Every time a discussion goes against management, they pull out, table it, or go around it.”

However, Slater said Szerlag “had no idea I would come back with this.” Slater said he attended a meeting Dec. 23 that included representatives from Hubbell, Roth and Clark, which is the proposed architectural firm, Assistant City Manager Mark Miller, Planning Commissioner John Tagle and Fleming.

“The only reason for that meeting was to see if it was possible to get the project down to $6 million,” Fleming said.

Fleming said the architect provided a report earlier this month that the project could be completed under federal guidelines for $6.27 million, including a contingency.

Slater said he is confident that the operational costs for the transit center, which city officials have estimated to be $31,966 annually, will be covered in part by Amtrak and in part from a source he could not name as of yet.

He would say that one private funding source may cover operational costs for a number of years. “I’m confident the issue is resolved,” he said. “It’s going to be covered.”

Slater added that the council never outright rejected the federal funding. “Positive action was needed to reject the project,” he said. “The only thing we really did was not hire an architect. It didn’t end the project.”

When Daniels questioned if Fleming and Slater’s Dec. 23 meeting with HRC violated the Open Meetings Act, Troy City Attorney Lori Grigg Bluhm said there was no quorum and no violation.

Szerlag told the council that he stands by the Dec. 19 deadline, and said that he believes the project, if approved, would require an extension.

Szerlag said that while a $6 million facility would not be Spartan, it would not include a decorative brick wall, a plaza, heated sidewalks, green elements or a vehicle charging station.

“I’m not behind the transit center process,” Henderson said. “We defund it, then you come up $2 million less.”

Daniels said she’s received hundreds of emails in opposition to the transit center. “The documented costs to taxpayers are understated,” she said. She further stated her opposition in detail in a five-page position paper.