The council voted unanimously — with Councilman Jack Goodwin absent — to approve increasing the amount of the city’s loan from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority for construction on the plant on Marietta Highway from $8 million to $8.4 million.
Canton Chief Financial Officer Nathan Ingram clarified Friday although the council approved the loan amount to be $8.4 million, the city may not end up spending as much. At this point, all that is definitely going to be spent on the plant is $7.35 million, he said.
The increase came up as an option for the city when it was believed the project would have to follow a mandate to use only American steel. That turned out not to be the case, but the council went ahead with the increase anyway, in case the money was needed.
In another vote, the council agreed to have Engineering Strategies Inc. make changes to the designs for the renovations, designs which the city paid another firm — McKim and Creed — about $400,000 to produce. The cost for ESI to make the changes was estimated by the firm to come in between $100,000 and $200,000.
Councilman Bill Grant cast the lone vote against having ESI change the designs, particularly, he said, because the city already paid $400,000 for the plans and ESI hasn’t given a definite cost.
“I believe it was like writing a blank check. I’m skeptical,” Grant said Friday. “We haven’t even broken ground on construction, and we’re already talking more money.”
ESI is basing the changes on a review it did of the designs, a review for which Canton paid the firm $30,000.
Grant was also concerned, because —although he was clear he wasn’t “insinuating” anything unethical — it would have been in ESI’s best interest to find problems in the designs, since the company would then get paid to fix them.
“I don’t think it’s the best scenario to ensure impartial judgment and review,” Grant said.
ESI has also been given a contract of about $350,000 by the city to oversee construction on the project. Officials have said the project was necessary because the plant was in violation of environmental standards.
Councilman Hooky Huffman said he only made up his mind to vote to have ESI make changes to the designs just before the vote Thursday night.
Like Grant, Huffman said he was concerned with what the cost of the changes would be.
“Everybody wanted to know,” Huffman said.
While a representative with ESI told the council the design tweaks would cost between $100,000 and $200,000, Huffman said, “It truly is a rough … I don’t know if ‘estimate’ is the right word; I’d call it a guess.”
But when it came time to vote, Huffman said two factors swayed him: the consensus seemed to be the changes were necessary and ESI said it would take responsibility for the final quality of the designs. Huffman also agreed it was a fair concern it would have been in ESI’s best interest in finding problems to fix, though he sincerely hoped a company wouldn’t take advantage of it.
Mayor Gene Hobgood was against paying the company to change the plans.
“My feeling is we’re going to spend a whole lot more money than we need to spend,” he said Friday. “I just feel like we’re spending money like it’s going out of style. I think we’ve got a responsibility to kind of watch over those dollars.”
Hobgood added there was no reason to think anything was wrong with McKim and Creed’s original designs in the first place, and, had a problem come up, the city would’ve expected the firm to fix it free of charge. Thanks to the council’s vote, though, the mayor said the point is now moot.