Bryan Harmon participated in his first commission meeting Thursday, after being sworn in to fill the unexpired term of Jeff Johnson, who died unexpectedly in October. The Dunlap City Commission is (l-r): Bryan Harmon, Mayor Dwain Land, Judy Layne, Allen Jones, and Jeff Harmon.
DISCLAIMER: This news report is written by the same person who addressed the Dunlap City Commission.
Jan. 18, 2019 – A resident of Dunlap was added to the agenda for the city commission's Jan. 17 meeting at the last minute, and she addressed some issues regarding the Harris Park Phase II project.
Karen House said she had been in communication by email with a spokesperson for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), which is the department that awarded a $500,000 grant in July 2016 for the project.
The city issued bonds for the million-dollar project to build a farmer's market pavilion and a children's splash pad at Harris Park.
“I spoke with the mayor about two months ago,” House said, “and he told me a couple of things that turned out to be in error. He said the fee paid to the design firm was mandated by the state to be 20 percent of the project, and that was wrong on both counts. He also said you have to have the plans before the state will award the grant.”
House then related the email exchange she had with Kim Schofinski, TDEC spokesperson:
Q. Are architect's drawings required before a state grant will be awarded?
Q. Does the state specify that a percentage of the project's cost go to the architect/design architect? If so, what percent goes to him?
A. A maximum 15 percent of the total grant project.
Q. How long does it normally take from the time a grant is awarded until the groundbreaking on such a project, on average?
A. Typically, that process takes 6 months-1 year, but each grant project and community may have unique circumstances affecting the timeline.
House then quoted from a website that estimated the nationwide average for cost of hiring a landscape architect: “A large-scale municipal or corporate park may cost upwards of $15,000.”
“On Dec. 3, the Sequatchie County school board approved a contract with Cope Architects for Griffith Elementary School renovations,” she added. “Architects are paid 7 percent of a project's cost for renovations, or 5 percent for new construction, Swafford said, 'which is consistent across the industry.'”
She also quoted Ben Farmer, of Farmer-Morgan design firm, as saying at a previous commission meeting that material prices for the Harris Park project had increased 30-40 percent each year.
Then she asked three questions:
- Why is Dunlap paying the maximum allowed by the state, in a series of no-bid contracts going exclusively to the Farmer-Morgan firm?
- Why the extended delay on the Harris Park Phase II project, during which the cost of materials has increased so much?
- Why is the pavilion portion of the project now at risk, when it was the number one choice in the public opinion survey?
Mayor Dwain Land responded that the state does not require the city to put out bids for an architect, and Treasurer/Recorder Norman Hatfield confirmed that this was true.
Commissioner Allen Jones said he did not know why the process has taken so long.
“That's a valid question,” Jones said, “why it's a three-year process.”
Hatfield said Ben Farmer should be there to answer some of the questions. He told the board he asked him to come to Thursday's meeting, but it was a last-minute request, and Farmer was out-of-state.
“If you have multiple firms, you're going to be more competitive on the price,” Jones acknowledged. But he also pointed out that the website House used to quote "average" prices for architectural services is notoriously low. Jones does similar work to Farmer-Morgan, but for Chattanooga.
Currently, his firm is working on a multi-million-dollar project for the city of Chattanooga, and they are paid 5 percent of the project's cost.
"That sounds about right," House said.
Mayor Land pointed out that when he first came in office the city was dealing with a different design firm that would not come to meetings to discuss projects. He explained that with Farmer-Morgan the city had developed a good working relationship.
“It's like picking a doctor for your child,” Land said. “I use one doctor, and you use another doctor. The reason I use a doctor for my child is because I like that doctor. This city is my child.”
Comm. Jones then volunteered his services in helping oversee project planning.
Hatfield pointed out that one factor contributing to the delay on the project was the mayor's attempt to “keep or improve what the original splash pad was. What he hasn't done is cut it down. That may be why it's costing more, is because he's not wanting to cut it.”
The commission has, however, discussed reducing or eliminating the pavilion from the project, to rein in costs.
Mayor Land then described how he negotiated the purchase price of some property from Tecumseh Products Co. a few years ago for use as a city maintenance building. The previous administration had determined to build a maintenance building where the city stage now sits, for $1.29 million, but Land said he thought he could do better, so he contacted the owner of the Tecumseh property.
Over the course of several phone calls, he worked the price down from $750,000 to $165,000.
“These deals take time,” he said. “I'm not perfect, but I try to save taxpayers money.”
Bryan Harmon, who only recently joined the commission, suggested scheduling a meeting that Ben Farmer could attend.
“We need to get Mr. Farmer in here and answer some of Mrs. House's questions,” Harmon said.
“In the future, it may be better to negotiate a more favorable fee for the city,” Comm. Jones said, “and save money for the taxpayers.”
“We don't want to lose the pavilion,” Mayor Land said, “and if I'm mayor long enough, I believe there will be a skate park.”
The Dunlap City Commission also heard the police report from Chief Clint Huth, who said his department answered 347 calls in December, with 157 arrests and citations. For the year of 2018, they answered 4,046 calls, which he said was “not up by much.” But the 1,484 arrests and citations reflected an increase of 22 percent on arrests and 51 percent on citations over 2017.
Comm. Bryan Harmon asked about several traffic fatalities that occurred in the city during 2018, and Chief Huth confirmed that the four fatalities within the city limits was unusual. These were the first traffic fatalities in Dunlap since 2012, he said. One was a pedestrian that was struck by a car while crossing US 127 near the Hardee's restaurant at dusk. A head-on collision at the Coops Creek bridge resulted in two deaths, although one of those died 30 days after the accident. And the fourth death was a motorcycle wreck.
Fire Chief Norman Hatfield reported his department answered nine alarms in December, including a structure fire that claimed a restaurant owned by the mayor and his brother.
In other business, the city commission:
- Welcomed Bryan Harmon to the commission. Harmon fills the unexpired term of Comm. Jeff Johnson until the next city election, scheduled for May 4.
- Briefly discussed the state audit report, which Hatfield said is posted at the city website.
All members of the commission were present at Thursday's meeting.
The Dunlap City Commission meets the third Thursday of every month at 6 p.m. CST, in the upstairs commission chambers of the Wagner Municipal Building, on Rankin Avenue, Dunlap. Meetings are open to the public.
The million-dollar project to add a splash pad and pavilion to Harris Park was approved in July 2016, but the city has yet to break ground.