Budget trimming decision leads to state squandering resources
It is prime real estate, in a place where parking spots are a coveted perk: the lower lot adjacent to the Rhode Island State House, where the majority of state representatives and senators are assigned a spot.
But it is not the easiest place to maneuver. And that’s why several years ago, the state planned a half-million dollar overhaul of the area. Under the Carcieri administration, architects had drawn up plans for an overhaul that would solve drainage issues, create a better circulation pattern and install a gate for controlled access to the site.
A Capitol Police officer monitors access to the upper lot, but budget cutbacks have left the lower lot booth empty. The project was funded and all set to go until Gov. Chafee pulled the plug on it shortly after taking over a year ago — due to the state’s massive budget deficit.
Capitol Police, though, asked if the administration could at least put in a gate at the entrance, for security and control. So it did, at a cost of $20,000. And a brand new gate system greeted Sen. Beth Moura and her colleagues when they arrived for a special session one day last fall.
“I have a large SUV. So, as I’m pulling in, with maybe an inch or two on either side to get through, (another representative) was coming the other way, seeing me have to carefully get through that space,” Moura told The Hummel Report. “He kind of laughed, like — that’s ridiculous.”
So we went to Marco Schiappa, facilities manager for the State Department of Administration, and the person ultimately responsible for the gate for some answers.
“What really caused the problem that we figured out later was the fact the circulation pattern inside for these gates doesn’t work because of the odd circulation that’s going on today,” he said.
And that’s what we found — easy for the Smart Car to get in, but not so much for any larger vehicle, even without the gate.
Schiappa tells the Hummel Report that the original plan called for a widening of the opening and reconfiguration of the parking spaces out front. Instead, someone from his office and RISTAN Systems of Providence — the firm that installed the gate — came up with their own design for just the gate.
Moura asked if she was having a problem with her SUV, how would a snow plow get in and out of the lot? There were also so many complaints that the state eventually pulled the center post out and paved it over — at a cost of an additional $760 — while officials figure out what to do. And that means taxpayers have spent more than $20,000 for a system that right now is nonfunctional.
Schiappa told us he drove through with his own Ford Explorer, admitting it was a little tight, but passable. And, he insisted it was wide enough for a plow — a message we relayed to Sen. Moura.
Moura: Well is (the gate) still there? That’s my answer. It’s gone, right? It wasn’t wide enough. He made the decision to say — well, after we spoke we did send a snowplow through and yes, they did access and they were able to get in and out. And I responded by saying, ‘I’m sure that they did, without snow on the ground. I’m quite sure they did.’
Hummel: You have a multi-billion dollar state budget. And a lot of people would say, ‘Senator, this is $20,000, and you know, when you put in your time and energy on this, why are you doing that?’ How do you answer the skeptic who would raise that issue?
Moura: It’s not just $20,000. If this same culture of carelessness, or the ease with which we spend taxpayer dollars is applied to every project, whether it be fixing a pothole, or rebuilding a bridge. Whether it’s a million, a billion, or a thousand. It’s not OK. I’m not looking for anyone’s head, or to get anyone necessarily in trouble. I want their budget next year, to be reduced by the amount that was wasted. And everyone needs to understand and be held to the standard of treating every dollar that we spend like it’s their own dollar.
The Chafee Administration says it has not made a decision on whether to go forward with additional work on the lot. So for now, the project remains in limbo.
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