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City ramps up sidewalks, turns down federal funds

Washington Street will get new sidewalk ramps - but they might come later than this fall and won't won't be funded by the federal government.

A $170,000 project to install new wheelchair ramps along East and West Washington Street made it onto the list of local transportation projects getting federal stimulus money.

But at the Monday, Aug. 24, council meeting, Public Works Director Ben Rankin said he was recommending the city not accept the federal grant because of the strings attached.

Rankin said later that refusing the grant doesn't mean the sidewalk ramps won't get built, just that they will get built a few months later.

He wants to get sidewalk ramps built because he's heard the demand for them, Rankin said.

"This is the first time I've refused grant money," Rankin told the council members.

The grant's "strings" included continuous engineering inspection and oversight, full-time contract management and "zero-tolerance" engineering, he said.

Rankin said the city's engineering consultant Grey & Osborne estimated it would cost $47,000 to provide the two months of required project oversight for the $170,000 grant.

He estimated all the associated costs could total as much as $80,000.

The zero tolerance engineering requirement also has the potential for tremendous change orders, Rankin said.

"I've never engineered anything to zero tolerance in my life," he said, adding the city might have to repay the grant if those specifications aren't met.

Several councilors congratulated Rankin for taking the unusual step of refusing a grant.

Councilor Erik Erichsen said, "I applaud you for doing that."

Mayor Laura Dubois added, "The size of the grant doesn't warrant the costs involved."

Councilor Bill Huizinga said, "Thanks for investigating that and discovering the shortfall."

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