Westwego’s on-again, off-again quest to build a new city hall took a step forward last week when a new round of construction bids came in on budget.
The City Council approved Boasso Construction, of Meraux, as the contractor Wednesday night after the firm submitted low bids of $3.2 million for the no-frills version of the building and $3.5 million for a design that includes additional amenities such as an on-site generator, increased fire protection for the records room and an electronic voting system for the council chambers.
There were eight bidders this time around, and half came in under or close to the target budget of $3.2 million. That was a sharp contrast to the first round in May, when the lowest of five bids came in at $3.7 million, well above the $3.2 million in federal funds the city has in hand.
That set back the project, which already had been delayed for years by a dispute over insurance money with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and then a disagreement among council members about the building’s layout.
The council scaled back the one-story, 10,000-square-foot building’s design to lower the price tag, jettisoning a “widow’s walk” in the building’s peak and reducing the number of thermostats around the building, among other features.
Then the council decided to have the new plans vetted by an independent consultant at the request of Councilman Glenn Green, who feared the tweaks would lead to a raft of change orders once the work gets underway.
With a design the city was confident could be built with the available money, along with a few hundred thousand dollars from the parish and other sources, the second round of bids got underway late last year.
Mayor John Shaddinger noted the bids were much closer to one another this time around; Boasso’s bid was only $15,000 less than that of the second-lowest bidder.
Construction is expected to take about a year, and the building should open in the first half of 2016 on Fourth Street, several blocks from the existing building on Avenue A in downtown Westwego.
The council also approved the city’s 2015 budget, which was largely unchanged from what was proposed last month.
The $16.6 million spending plan anticipates $15.5 million in revenue and leaves the city with an unrestricted fund balance, sometimes called a rainy day fund, of $324,316.
The budget, however, assumes the passage of 10 mills in property taxes that will go before voters this spring to pay for maintenance and new equipment for the Fire Department and sewer and water services.
If those taxes don’t pass, $589,270 in budgeted revenue will vanish and the city will have to scramble to make cuts.
Shaddinger said he is confident voters will recognize the need for the millages. He noted that Westwego has seen its fund balance decline in recent years because it has had to subsidize its water and sewer departments from the general fund.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.