Based on a recommendation from the County Manager, the Niagara County Legislature is moving forward with a plan to merge county operations into three buildings. Under this scenario, the approximately 35 buildings the county currently owns or rents space in would be consolidated into an east campus, a west campus and a public works facility.
This is a good idea. Right now, the county has too many antiquated buildings that are inefficient. Consolidation of county operations would also go a long way in eliminating the duplication that exists from maintaining so many locations. In addition, the county will examine the benefits of constructing "green buildings", which are more efficient, environmentally friendly buildings.
The problem is this: When County Manager Greg Lewis initially proposed the campus idea, he stated that the cost for a public works facility would be in the $12-15 million range, which would be paid for over 20 years. The east and west campuses were estimated to come in around $20 million each.
The county's engineering firm, Wendel Duchscherer, recently estimated that the public works facility in itself would cost between $40-42 million. How could Lewis be so far off in his initial projection of $12-15 million? We're not talking about a couple million dollars here, we're talking about $30 million. And if the estimate for the public works was so horribly erroneous, what will that do to the projection of $20 million each for the east and west campuses?
From what I recall, there was some apprehension on the part of the Legislature to move forward with Lewis' plan for consolidation, but Lewis sold it well. But now, knowing the massive cost difference between what was initially stated and what we now know, would the Leg have given Lewis' plan the initial go ahead if they had known the correct numbers?
The consolidation is certainly worth pursuing. But at what cost? Are we as a county, and thus, the taxpayers, willing to spend what could easily be $100 million for it? The Legislators cannot blindly follow Lewis on this. We need to know both the short term and long term implications of moving forward with the campus concept. I hope they do their homework.