May 29, 2012
By Al Gray
Our team of community watchdogs at Augusta Today and CityStink.net have not let sleeping dogs lie with the TEE Center and Reynolds Street Parking deck deals that were conditionally approved by the Augusta Richmond County last February 7. Readers might recall that the Augusta Commission then approved a deal for Augusta Riverfront, LLC to manage the new Reynolds Street Parking Deck, contingent upon the land for the parking deck being deeded to the city land bank and being cleared of all liens. The decision was reached in a last-minute panic to get something passed to relieve the Commission of what was a very hot potato of an issue – how a $12 million parking deck got built on land the city didn’t own.
Has the land been deeded to the Land Bank and have the liens been released by Wells Fargo, the bank that holds the liens on the land under the Reynolds Street Parking Deck (RSPD)?
The answer is NO, according to review of the Augusta Richmond County Clerk of Court deeds of record for the property as reported on the Georgia Superior Court Clerk’s Cooperative Authority. The deeds on the GSCCA site are certified to be county-good through May 23, 2012.
Augusta Today and CityStink.net contributors, armed with documents secured via Georgia Open Records Act Requests, the city’s excellent on-line document archives, and the help of several officials inside Augusta government, have taken scrutiny of the proposed parking deck deals to unusual lengths to get the answers to more questions.
Were the contracts for management of the decks put out for bid? Yes.
The City Procurement Director issued Request for Proposals RFP Item #11-087, Managing Augusta Parking Facilities, in January 2011 with a due date for bids to be opened on Friday, February 18, 2011. That the RFP covers the RSPD and the Parking Deck at the Augusta Marriott is established in the Introduction Section I on page 10 of the RFP with, “The Procurement Department… is soliciting proposals to manage and operate the Augusta owned parking facilities located on Reynolds Street in Augusta to include the Parking Deck at the Augusta Marriott and the new Reynolds Street Parking Deck currently under construction.”
Was Augusta Riverfront, LLC the low-bidder? The LLC did not place a bid in response to RFP #11-087, covering the two Augusta owned parking decks between 9th and 10th streets in Augusta.
Augusta Riverfront did not appear as a party on the Pre-Proposal Conference Sign In Sheet of January 28, 2011. It does not appear on the Cumulative Evaluation Sheet. There is no indication that Augusta Riverfront, LLC submitted a bid of any type in response to RFP #11-08.
If another firm offered an acceptable bid, was it recommended and its proposal accepted? The bid of Ampco Parking Systems of Houston, Texas was recommended for acceptance, but all bids were rejected with the knowledge of the City Administrator.
Mr. Richard Acree, Jr., Assistant Director of the Augusta Facilities Management Division wrote, “It is… my recommendation that we award the contract for Bid Item 11-087 to Ampco Parking Systems.” After an exchange of emails on August 5, 2011 between Augusta’s then Recreation Director Tom Beck, Procurement Specialist Nancy Williams, and Administrator Fred Russell, Mr. Beck wrote a letter to Ms. Williams on August 8 directing her to reject all bids associated with RFP #11-087.
Are there costly inconsistencies between the sample contract included in the RFP that Ampco Parking System accepted and the one with Augusta Riverfront, LLC that was recommended by the City Administrator for adoption by the City Commission? Apparently. They include:
1. Management Fee.
Ampco quoted a fee for the TWO Decks in the amount of $17,964.00. The fee in the management agreement in 3.1(see page 6) for the Reynolds Street Deck alone with the LLC is $25,000.00. After recovery of the $50,000 rental fee paid to Augusta under the Conference Center Deck agreement on page 3, the LLC gets another $25,000.00 fee.
There is a recommended contract in the RFP which appears to be largely based upon the previous conference center contract with Republic Parking. To be fair, the RFP agreement would have given the management company an incentive fee of 25% (up to 45% based upon increments of $100,000) of net revenues over $150,000 for both decks (page 33), while Augusta gets 100% of the RSPD net revenues, if there are any, with Augusta and the LLC management group sharing net revenues after the rental sum and $25,000.00 fee on the Conference Center Deck.
Why did the City Administrator agree to pay more fee on the RSPD than its recommended bidder quoted for TWO decks?
2. Liability Insurance
The Deck RFP Addendum 1 stated, “Liability Insurance is to be paid out of the management fee.” However, the RSPD agreement in 9.4 on page 17 states, “Insurance premiums and any cost or expenses with respect to the insurance described in this Article shall be an Operating Expense of the RSPD.” Liability insurance is listed in the Article at 9.1.
Why did the conditionally awarded agreement with the LLC shift the liability insurance costs from the management firm to the city?
3. Operating Expense Limitations
The designated contract within Augusta’s RFP 11-087, page 32 of the RFP package, limits operating expenses to enumerated expenses and, “other expenses as authorized and included in an operating budget approved in advance by AUGUSTA.” This provision was accepted by Ampco. The agreement conditionally accepted by Augusta with the LLC contains no such requirement, broadly defining “operating expenses” outside of the Annual Plan to include, “any other expenses incurred in the operation of the RSPD that would be considered operating expenses under GAAP.” GAAP means Generally Accepted Accounting Principles.
Why doesn’t the agreement with the LLC limit what can be considered an operating expense to those expenses enumerated in the Annual Plan and authorized by Augusta?
4. Expenses Allowed Under the Annual Plan
Ampco submitted a bid compliant with Augusta requirements that included an annual budget. This budget shows expenses of $21,557. The management fee of $17,964.00 was added to this balance to arrive at total expenses of $39,521.00. Since the Ampco proposal covers both parking decks, adjusting the expenses to a factor of 0.54 (the ratio of RSPD parking spaces to total parking spaces in both decks) produces $21,341.43 in total non-labor operating expenses for the RSPD for the first year.
South Augusta community activist Juanita Burney submitted a Georgia Open Records Act Request to the city’s Law Department seeking the annual plan for the RSPD as submitted by selected management firm Augusta Riverfront, LLC. After some delay and a follow-up request, she received documents including undated cover letters from Augusta Riverfront, LLC, accompanying one 12 month budget for 2012 dated August 29, 2011 and an 11 month budget dated January 26, 2012.
The August 2011 budget was used for comparison purposes, as it covered 12 months and was closer in timing to the Ampco budget. The LLC budget for expenses totaled $83,818.00, but $29,505.00 related to Augusta-provided utility costs and credit card fees which were outside of those listed within the RFP. This brought the total costs down to $54,113.00, which were higher than the Ampco adjusted total by $32,771.66. Bear in mind that the Ampco agreement only limited the manager to the specific types of expenses listed, but not totals, so actual costs may have exceeded the budget for Ampco.
Did the Augusta Administrator consider the budgeted expense differential between the rejected, but deemed compliant Ampco proposal and the much higher Augusta Riverfront budget? If not, why not?
5. Labor Costs Under the Annual Budget
Ampco’s labor budget was $212,225.00, plus labor burden of $44,444.00 for a total of $256,669.00, with the RSPD portion (0.54) totaling $138,601.26. Augusta Riverfront LLC’s labor budget was $95,150.00, plus labor burden of $27,402.00, for a total of $122, 552.00, or $16,049.26 less. Most of the extra cost from Ampco was the inclusion of a Supervisor and from unusually high worker compensation costs.
As noted above, Ampco would seem to have been limited to the costs enumerated in its budget by the terms of the proposed agreement. The LLC can add costs that fall under GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles). Also, the language of 5.3 on page 8, of the RSPD Management Agreement states that the Manager determines the personnel necessary to operate the RSPD and in paragraph (f) on page 9 states that the Manager can assign, “shared employees.”
Are there sufficient contract controls over the assignment of additional staff and shared employees for Augusta when the Manager has this level of discretion?
6. Operating Cost Advance
The terms of the RFP, and accepted by Ampco, states in Article 3, paragraph 4, “The Operator shall be granted an operating fund advance equivalent to 2 months operating expenses, to be credited against the first two months of operation.” The terms of the LLC agreement on page 11, in 6.2, provides for an ongoing 90 day operation expense fund balance.
Is the fund balance sufficiently offset by the LLC’s funding of the other deck agreement?
7. Capital Budget
The RFP and Ampco proposal contained no separate capital budget. The LLC budget included a schedule entitled, “Equipment – Startup Cost,” which included a Riding Sweeper at an estimated cost of $59,000. The schedule also included additional cost of Freight and Tax. The Conference Center Deck Agreement in Paragraph 4 (page 5) states, “With respect to any equipment owned by by Landlord but used for both the RSPD and the Demised Premises, Tenant shall pay a fair rental rate for the use of said equipment, as set forth in the Annual Plan in effect for the RSPD Management Agreement.” No credit was found in the proposed RSPD budget for that sweeper, so perhaps it will be used only in the RSPD.
If the capital equipment was purchased via an Augusta bank account with Augusta funds, wouldn’t the purchase be exempt from (sales) tax? Will the prorated fair rental costs for RSPD capital equipment be included in the Annual Plan?
8. Credit Card Fees
The initial Annual Budget for 2012 proposed by the LLC includes an expense item for credit card fees. However, “Operating Revenues” includes discounts for credit card fees, which is consistent with the RFP sample contract.
**Could this give rise to double reimbursement of credit card fees?
Augusta had a long running contract with Republic Parking that seems to have been the basis for its sample RFP contract. Ampco Parking did not find this contract objectionable and accepted large portions of it. In general, why are the agreements the City Administrator recommended so much more flexible in terms of internal controls? Will the relative infrequency of reporting and manager control over revenues and expenses provide Augusta with sufficient information to assure that potential conflicts of interest, alluded to in Article 5.1.b of the RSPD Management Agreement, have not arisen? Did the Administrator use the Ampco bid terms, conditions, and costs to negotiate the best deal possible for Augusta?
Questions abound with these deck arrangements. We could ask questions approaching the number of parking spaces in these parking decks. The Augusta Commission should have asked them before rushing to approve the parking deck agreements, too. ***
– Bradley Owens
Contributing to this report were Cost Recovery Specialist Al Gray
, with South Augusta Community activist Juanita Burney and Harrisburg Community activist Lori Davis.
**Below are links to the public documents cited in the above article**