Supervisors right to seek audit of juvenile hall project |

Supervisors right to seek audit of juvenile hall project

Members of the Nevada County Board of Supervisors are doing the right thing with their eagerness to get an outside auditor’s opinion about what went wrong with the contract for construction of a new juvenile hall.

An audit is required whenever state money is used – there’s $5.39 million of state money in the new juvenile hall – and members of the Board of Supervisors were smart to grab the opportunity to get some information about the project.

There doesn’t appear to be anything scandalous about the juvenile hall construction, but a number of questions remain unanswered.

The construction initially was expected to cost $5.04 million. The final tab for construction is now expected to be about $5.4 million, and the juvenile hall will open about nine months late.

A $400,000 cost overrun never is good news, but it’s not unknown on a project of this size and complexity. The total cost of the new juvenile hall – including utilities and other items – will be about $8.27 million, and the $400,000 is less than 5 percent of the total.

The county blames the delays and the added costs on bad weather and the need to clear debris from an old dump discovered on the site. The contractor, meanwhile, blames the county’s management for the delays and added costs.

Litigation will settle the question of blame. Even if a settlement is reached, the county would serve its constituents well by insisting that the terms of the settlement be made public.

The financial audit, meanwhile, will help the county’s managers learn ways they can avoid similar problems with future projects. Should the cost overrun turn into a political issue, the information in the audit can provide a solid platform for the debate over public policy alternatives.

Again, a $400,000 cost overrun isn’t the end of the world on a large, complicated project. But it’s enough money that those of us who own the county government – that’s all of us – need some straight answers about what happened.

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