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Pol Hopes New Bill Will Embarrass Agencies Into Finishing Projects On Time

By Eddie Small | April 13, 2017 2:50pm | Updated on April 16, 2017 7:54pm
 Councilman Andrew Cohen has proposed a bill that would require agencies to notify community leaders about project delays and cost overruns.
Councilman Andrew Cohen has proposed a bill that would require agencies to notify community leaders about project delays and cost overruns.
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DNAinfo/Eddie Small

NEW YORK — Councilman Andrew Cohen hopes a new bill of his will embarrass city agencies into finishing their capital projects on time and on budget.

The recently proposed bill would require all city agencies to notify the local council member, borough president and community board every time a project they are working on looks to be delayed by 60 or more days or has its cost change by 10 percent or more.

The electronic notification would have to include the original estimated cost of the project, the expected start and end date for each project phase, the total amount of money spent on the project so far and a reason for why the cost has changed or why it has been delayed.

Although Cohen acknowledged that he did not expect this bill to make delays and cost overruns problems of the past, he hopes it will help shame agencies into keeping their word about when projects will be done and how expensive they will be by ensuring that the community will know every time a project is facing issues with time and money.

"This is not going to be the silver bullet that is going to solve the city’s capital projects problems," he said, "but we’re just trying to kind of embarrass people into trying to do the right thing."

Cohen maintained that the current method of learning about troubled projects is very informal and largely dependent on community leaders diligently keeping track of their progress.

"That’s hard if you have a lot of capital projects, if there’s a lot of work going on in the district," he said. "It shouldn’t be incumbent upon the elected official or the community board to chase down this information."

The bill is cosponsored by Councilman Donovan Richards, who said it would help ensure that taxpayer dollars are being used effectively.

"The more transparency, the more accountability," he said, "which means we can hold agencies more accountable when these projects halt."

The think tank Center for an Urban Future came out with a report on Monday chronicling delays and cost overruns among cultural projects in the city, which found that the median new projects take roughly seven years to finish and cost approximately $930 per square foot.

The report's recommendations for improving the process included creating a "Director of Libraries" position at City Hall and assessing the overall quality of contractors, rather than just going with the lowest bid.

Center for an Urban Future Executive Director Jonathan Bowles said he supported Cohen's proposal as well, describing it as "one step that could be valuable with this process."

"I don’t think it’s the only thing that needs to happen," he said, "but by all means, more disclosure and accountability is a good thing."

Cohen said it would be helpful to know if a contractor has a track record of not finishing projects on time and on budget and said he would consider compiling a "worst contractors" list similar to the city's "worst landlords" list to help publicize such information.

"I think it definitely is worth considering. I don’t know off the top of my head what the criteria would necessarily be," he said.

The Parks Department is reviewing the bill.

Cedric Loftin, District Manager of Bronx Community Board 1, said he thought the bill was an excellent idea that would help community boards understand more about the status of projects in their neighborhoods.

"In the past, there have been delays related to projects that have been in the system for quite some time, but there is never a notification on a reason why they are delayed and when they're going to actually start up as far as its construction," he said, "so I think it’s very instrumental that this type of legislation is being introduced."