Cecil County DPW Chief Hits Two Multi-Million $ Homers, One Small Strike on Cost Savings to Taxpayers
Not so long ago, Mike Flanagan was a star pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles, scoring multiple wins for the home team. In Cecil County, more recently a similarly-named batter employed by the county government hit some home runs out of the park in savings to local taxpayers. But even the best hitters sometimes get a strike, and the Cecil County Council was full of praise on Tuesday for the homers but quick to complain about a small strike.
Scott Flanigan, Cecil County’s Director of Public Works, told the Cecil County Council at its 11/3/2015 worksession that his department will save up to $6 million on projected costs for a state and federally-mandated environmental upgrade to the North East/Seneca Point wastewater (sewage) treatment plant, a project that is now about 80 percent completed. In addition, Flanigan and his staff re-worked engineering designs on a needed upgrade to the failing Port Deposit sewage treatment facility—which is now owned by the county—to provide increased capacity and save about $1.2 million over cost estimates made just last month.
The County Council, not usually inclined to offer words of endearment to county employees, gushed with praise for Flanigan and his staff for watch-dogging the costly sewage projects to give the county the biggest bang for its bucks.
“I want to commend you,” County Council President Robert Hodge (R-5) told Flanigan. “It is really an amazing feat.” Hodge was particularly impressed that the massive re-construction and upgrades of the Seneca Point facility had occurred while the plant was still operating day by day to provide need sewage treatment operations for the county’s wastewater needs.
It was more than a vindication of Flanigan’s engineering expertise and political patience, after former County Councilor and Commissioner Diana Broomell (R-4) had vehemently opposed the technical plans for the upgrades of the Seneca Point sewage treatment plan.
Time and time again, with Power Point presentations, information on site visits by county DPW staff to plants in other states using the state-of-the-art “membrane” technology, detailed briefing materials and probably more scientific data than any normal citizen could endure, Flanigan championed a state of the art “membrane” technology upgrade for the facility that will more than meet state and federal environmental mandates while also providing the needed capacity for the county’s long wished-for sewage capacity to serve the “growth corridor” that currently lacks such services to attract business and economic development. Eventually, a majority of the Council agreed to go forward with the “membrane” technology plan.
The Seneca Point upgrades were originally calculated to cost up to $39.6 million in the county’s capital improvement budget. But Flanigan told the council that it is calculated that the project will now cost about $33 million, or savings of about $6 million. County staff worked closely with contractors and revamped technical details as the project went along, making changes along the way to save as much money as possible.
The project is now on track to operate fully next year, in time to avoid potential massive state and federal fines that would be imposed if the upgrades were not in place by a deadline to prevent pollution of the Chesapeake Bay.
Another DPW homer came after a potential strike-out last month, on plans for needed upgrades to the Port Deposit sewage treatment plant, which was turned over to the county years ago in anticipation of needed upgrades to serve the vacant Bainbridge complex where the county has been trying for decades, without success, to bring business and economic development.
The DPW had proposed purchase of a mobile ‘package’ sewage treatment plant that could be used to treat existing needs of about 40,000 gallons a day in Port but could be expanded and re-located closer “up the hill” to the Bainbridge site when, or if, new development occurred on that property. The existing town facility is antique, rusting and falling apart.
Last month, a contrite Flanigan came to the County Council and said that staff evaluations of the needed size of the planned “packet” treatment facility had under-estimated the capacity of a vendor’s offered equipment and that an additional $1.2 million above previously budget needs would be required. The Council complained loudly.
But on Tuesday, Flanigan came back to the Council with good news: he and his staff had re-evaluated options and concluded a mobile package plant was not immediately needed and that the existing Port plant could be salvaged through re-lining the existing rusted tanks, applying sealants, or even replacing the tanks while retaining current pumps. As a result, Flanigan cancelled the request for an extra $1.2 million. In addition, those options would boost the available sewage treatment capacity to about 150,000 gallons a day, a vast increase from the currently needed volume.
“This is a good news story,” Flanigan told the council.
“I commend you for going back and looking at this option,” commented Councilor George Patchell (R-3).
But the warm feelings only lasted a short time before some councilors whined about a $200,000 problem with another DPW project—a Washington Street pump station improvement project for which contractor bids came in much higher than expected. DPW is asking the Council for a $200,000 boost in approved construction costs over the previously expected costs of $400,000.
Several councilors complained about the projected cost increase, but Flanigan explained that as the economy is improving, contractors are putting in higher bids in comparison with the relatively cheaper bids put in when jobs were few and far between.
“If you don’t have confidence in us and you think it’s too much money,” Flanigan said, he would cancel the RFP (requests for proposals) and put the project out for bid in the next fiscal year. But he warned that bids would very likely be higher in another year, as construction picks up and vendors have the options to be more choosy and profit-minded in their bids.
“I think generally we do a good job,” Flanigan said of his department, on estimating costs and watchdogging spending for public works projects.
If the baseball fans and taxpayers were marking their scorecards at the council worksession, Flanigan was pretty close to MVP status in his recent trips to the field.