Goliad signs point to financial concerns for town
Nov. 30, 2013 at 5:30 a.m.
Updated Dec. 1, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
GOLIAD - The price tag for a project intended to welcome motorists to Goliad has more than doubled in cost, according to records obtained through the Texas Public Information Act.
With two 12-foot-tall stone monuments installed and two more to come declaring Goliad's historical significance, a project originally agreed at $100,000 could end up costing as much as $231,200, if not more.
More than the rising cost, the city's method of hiring contractors and agreeing on specifications for the gateway and wayfinding signs has raised concerns in the community.
State law requires cities to go out for competitive bids on projects costing more than $50,000, as stated in Section 252.021 of the Local Government Code.
Although the project was initially agreed at $100,000, Goliad did not publish an announcement for competitive bids before it hired National Sign Plazas, headquartered in Centennial, Colo., on Feb. 27, 2012, according to documents obtained through the Public Information Act.
Furthermore, the city does not have records of any bids received for the project.
City officials refuse to comment on the matter, pending a Texas Ranger investigation into the Goliad Municipal Development District, an economic development program riddled with poor record-keeping, questionable loan practices, missing documents and virtually no accountability. The city paid for the signs with sales tax money raised by the development district.
Mayor Jay Harvey refused to comment about the rising cost of the gateway project, the contract for the work and how the contractor was found.
Councilwoman Liz Holsey is quick to voice her concerns.
"I think it's a lot of money that could have been better spent," she said.
Depending on changes in materials and labor, she thinks the project's grand total could be higher than the $231,200 estimate.
"I've never been happy with the project because they never went out for bids," she said.
As time ticked on with no consensus on design, the cost started adding up, Holsey said.
"Every time they came with a design, the council had changed their minds and wanted something else," she said. "They can't make a decision and stick to it. The minute they come with one decision, they want something else, and that drives the price up."
She was not on the City Council when the expense was approved. If she had a say back then, she said, she would have voted against the contract.
The city of Victoria installed a new gateway sign in May off Southwest Moody Street. The sign's materials and construction, along with solar lighting, cost $25,420. Funds came from the city's hotel occupancy tax dollars.
Each gateway sign in Goliad cost $39,500, according to the sign master plan, and both are unlit.
Steve Startzell, of National Sign Plazas in Houston, said he met the city at a trade show two or three years ago.
"We approach cities; sometimes, cities approach us because we have extensive work history here in the state," Startzell said. "We go through the bid process sometimes; sometimes, we don't. It just depends on the city."
Startzell did not know the timeline of the project or what had held it up for almost two years.
In November 2012, nine months after the mayor signed the contract with National Sign Plazas, the council approved a design that would cost $160,000, according to minutes from that City Council meeting. Councilman Ed Carter voted against the design.
While the mayor would not comment about the project's bottom line, Carter objected to the cost during a February 2013 City Council meeting when City Administrator Larry Zermeno announced they would move forward with four signs. At the time, Zermeno estimated the cost would be $226,000.
Carter objected again at the Nov. 5 meeting and asked whether the cost would continue to increase and whether the city might end up paying another $100,000 before the project is completed.
Carter could not be reached for comment.
At that same meeting, Zermeno explained the cost changes and called the project's increase "significant."
He said the city has permission from a landowner to install one of the two remaining gateway signs but has not secured a location for the second.
As for the wayfinding signs, Zermeno said they are waiting on approval from Texas Department of Transportation. Construction along U.S. Highway 59 is also contributing to the delay, he said.
As the cost continues to rise and city officials remain tight-lipped, members of the community are questioning the project.
Marilyn Key, a Goliad artist, created an original design for the city's gateway signs back in the late 1990s when the idea was in its infancy.
She helped pick out locations and worked through several other sketches. However, when no action was taken to move the project forward, she thought it had been shelved.
About a year ago, she received a letter saying the signs had funding, but she chose not to participate.
While she did not take out estimates on her designs, she has a hard time accepting the current price.
"I'm not happy about it," she said. "I was appalled at the price when I heard what they were paying for each sign."
She wants to see more transparency from city leaders about the actual cost.
Although she lives outside city limits and would not be eligible to vote in a local election, she said she is hoping for change.
"We've really been disappointed in all the things that have come about in our Goliad city government recently," Key said.
Mary Jacob Burns, a Goliad resident, said the sign project appeared "totally illegal."
"Not only did they have to go out for competitive bids, but they had to post that in the local paper," she said. The city took neither of those steps.
She is concerned the price will continue escalating.
"They're really pretty signs, but we still don't have the wayfinding signs," she said. "We don't have the other two signs. Are we looking at $300,000?"