It is clear that the effects of Tropical Storm Irene will be felt in our Upstate communities for some time.  While all reports indicate that we were prepared for the storm, it is a reminder of how little control we humans have over Mother Nature.  So now the clean-up begins.

And as if that won’t be challenging enough, some are now also using  this as an opportunity to challenge the new property tax cap. Already we are hearing that the cap, which was passed this last session, will hinder the clean-up efforts.  Some local government officials are saying that the cap ties their hands in what can be raised to make the repairs.

In the face of such a difficult challenge and so much personal suffering, blaming the cap is easy. It lets us fall back on the excuse that “this is how we’ve always done it. “  But before we allow ourselves to go down that familiar, dead end road – and I’m sure many more attempted challenges to the cap lie ahead – let’s instead try to get creative about how we do things.

Let’s think: What can be changed that will allow local governments to rebuild, and do it cost effectively and under the cap?.  Here are a few suggestions:

  • When reconstructing or repairing government buildings, suspend the Wick’s Law which by requiring  4  prime contracts raises project costs.  NYC schools have been exempt from the law for years and the savings are well documented;
  • Eliminate any Project Labor Agreement (PLA) or Prevailing Wage requirements, which also drive up construction cost;
  • Advance to the Governor for his signature a bill by Sen. Ranzenhofer and Assemblyman Heastie which calls for the obtaining best value for contracts for public work and purchase contracts;
  • Allow for alternative project delivery, specifically design build, which yields a greater return on investment than traditional design bid build.

For years, many have argued that construction mandates make public works project more expensive.  Others say the additional cost is negligible.  Either way, Irene offers us a chance to study the effects of these laws by temporarily suspending them so that the rebuilding process can start immediately.  At the same time, we can compare project costs with past projects and determine once and for all if these construction mandates do cost more.

Our thoughts and sympathies go out to those affected by the storm.  But New York can help them rebound by fixing the construction mandates we identified.  Suspending the laws will also help our local governments control their costs so that they don’t feel the need to override the tax cap…which in the end would be another costly blow to residents of the affected areas.