by Michael G. Maness
Mayor Don Baird convened the Colmesneil City Council Tuesday evening, Jan. 13, with a chamber full of guests and introduced David J. Waxman from the management firm by the same name based out of Jasper, Texas.
With the construction nearing completion, Waxman informed all present of the history, difficult process, and current state of affairs of the grant-funded Emergency Service District #7 Station, future home of the Colmesneil Volunteer Fire Department and other services. The final project cost is $443,445. Cost to the city? None, other than the time given at intervals by the mayor, staffers, and those on the volunteer emergency teams in conjunction with county officials.
With a little bit of humor and some tamed-down technical jargon, Waxman told the story in 50 minutes of an obviously long, complicated journey. From the $3.8 billion the feds offered to rebuild after Hurricane Ike in 2008, spread out among four DETCOG areas, Tyler County got $4.3 million in this latest grant.
As the grant administrator for all the projects in Tyler County, Waxman related in a phone call after the council meeting, that his job was to make sure all the professionals did what they were supposed to do. In addition to Colmesneil's EDS Station, there were nine other road projects in this particular grant, dubbed Ike-2 by Waxman. Tyler County had received several million for Hurricane Rita and Ike-1 grants.
Pct. 3 Commissioner Mike Marshall heartily supported Colmesneil's desire for a fire station. As Waxman administrated the grant under Government Land Office, the GLO maintained control of both the architect and the main contractor, Cox Construction. Overseeing multiple projects at the same time, making sure the local, state, and federal laws were followed, including fair-housing and environmental concerns, to "the price of tea in China," Waxman said. As though that was not hard enough, when the engineering firms or the GLO sent novices, Waxman had to cater and educate, encourage and even nurture, making sure that the contractors followed all the labor laws and technical specs set by the GLO's architect. Waxman had to wrestle or juggle or box, necessary, to keep the projects on target, and try to keep the cities' and county interests foremost.
Once underway, GLO oversight through Waxman prevented the county and city from much direct input over the project's actual work, which is an uncomfortable process for many. As strange as that might appear, and confusing to some residents, Waxman noted how some of those were normative struggles that come from federally-funded projects. In so many words, it was just a necessary part of getting the money, and to be thankful for in the long haul.
With no outlay from Colmesneil and only a relatively small sum from the county, Colmesneil will be getting a fully functional fire station with room for other emergency-based equipment. Colmesneil was the only entity, too, getting a fire station from the massive Ike disaster funds in all of East Texas.
Yes, several parts of the project could have been done cheaper, portions of the building made more efficient, and some portions constructed more cheaply. But as Waxman wisely illustrated with several anecdotes, it could not have been accomplished much cheaper under the myriad laws governing the use of federal funds. For instance, if the minimum requirements on specialist wages were not followed (plumbing, electrical, et al), that could require the feds to ask for their money back. No one wanted to give money back.
As far as Waxman was concerned, he seemed to be conscientious, perhaps to a fault, not appearing to let anything go unnoticed, not wishing a dime to be misspent or wasted. In all, Waxman has 5 percent of the money retained until the final "punch list" is accomplished, feeling confident that all could be completed in 30-40 days.
Baird was careful to encourage any and all present to ask any questions of Waxman they desired. There had been some criticism of the EDS project.
Long-time resident and frequent visitor to the council meetings, Katherine Deason said, "If any had a question, they should have been here."
The council seemed to reflect that Waxman had administered the project well and that the citizens and Colmesneil ESD members were rather proud to be at this stage of the project.
On the name of the EDS #7, should the county give their share in the building to the city, as Waxman said had been discussed – and seemed likely, given the usual nature of such agreements – then the city could rename the station anything they wished.
To lighten the air, and encourage further questions, Waxman pulled a blue Wizard's hat out of his briefcase and put it on his head. The hat had a gold crescent moon smiling embroidered on the top. A fitting end, with serious consideration, Waxman had been the wizard, of sorts, looking out after the best interests of the grant administration. After all, there were no more questions .... no other willing to challenge the wizard.
With a thanks to Waxman, Baird wished him and his wife well, and proceeded down the city's agenda, all items briskly approved.
Utility Director Keith Barnes reported that the renovation Well #4 was under way, but needed a higher capacity pump to maintain water supply during the project. The council quickly approved the $5,000 cost.
A very nice addition to the council chambers, City Secretary Carrie Edwards had procured new simulated leather high-back chairs and a new conference table, matching the already tasteful décor Edwards has long maintained.