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Waste Watch: The $600,000 elevator

Updated: Wednesday, July 10 2013, 03:29 PM EDT

Lyons, N.Y. - How many jobs does a $600,000 elevator create?

That’s one of the questions this 13WHAM Waste Watch Report attempts to answer.

The project is partially funded with a $300,000 grant from New York State awarded to the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council in December.  The Regional Councils, now in their second year, are how the state awards funds for projects touted as “job creators.”

This project is titled the “9 Pearl Street Accessibility Project” and in the description, it states that “Wayne County will install an elevator to service the second floor of County Office Building #3…to bring the building into American Disabilities Act compliance…(and to) enable the second floor of the building to fully serve the public.”

Wayne County Board of Supervisors Chairman James Hoffman met 13WHAM News in Lyons outside that building to explain the project.  We began by asking him if he thought $300,000 was expensive for an elevator?

“Well, I think it is.  It is expensive, yes,” Hoffman said while also explaining that the county plans to match the state’s grant for a total cost of $600,000.  “While we believe it to be six-hundred (thousand) we're optimistic it could be a little bit less, but those are our best guesstimates."

When asked if he knew why the elevator was so expensive Hoffman replied, “No, I guess I really don't.  I just don't have any idea, I've been aware that it's been very expensive because it's been discussed, but at this point I couldn't tell you why."

As it turns out, elevators for municipal buildings are very expensive.  13WHAM News found one Upstate New York County Executive who recently received a similar quote for a two-story elevator project in another county; only that quote was closer to $700,000 for the total cost of the project.

Todd LaBarr is the President of Watchdog Building Partners, a contracting firm that handles many municipal projects in Wayne County and elsewhere.  He was not surprised by the county’s estimated cost.

“No, not in today's construction place," LaBarrr said.  "Generally it's a retro-fit to an existing building, if you're dealing with public entity buildings there's prevailing wage rates that come into play and the cost of construction of an elevator within a facility is very costly."

In speaking with representatives from at least three different Upstate counties, all agreed that prevailing wage rates, state and federal regulations, and various construction standards contributed to a municipal project cost that could range from 20% to 35% more than a private business might expect to pay.

So where does this elevator go?

On the first floor of the 9 Pearl Street Building is the Wayne County Clerk’s Office and the Department of Motor Vehicles.  Both are visited by thousands of people each year, but the officeupstairs?  Not so much.

The Planning Department, Economic Development Director, County Historian, and the Office of Tourism all call the second floor of this building home.  A couple rooms upstairs are full of boxes and are clearly used for storage.  There is also a conference room with little more than a table and some chairs.

"The need was obvious from the day I was appointed in 2004," County Historian Peter Evans said of the elevator.  Between 500 and 600 people visit his office each year and, "…a good portion are over 55 or over 60, and they aren't all as mobile as some of us."

The Office of Tourism doesn't get that many visitors, but they too have touted the need for an elevator for more than a decade.

"I've wanted the elevator from day one," said Christine Worth the Executive Director of the Office of Tourism.  “We do a lot of trade shows and we have to carry all of the brochures to our cars and we're on the second floor so it's a lot of work."

But even some supporters of the project admit that $600,000 for an elevator seems to be a steep price to pay.

"It does seem like a lot but I just wonder because it's such an old building if there's a lot more red tape involved in putting an elevator here," Worth said while also wondering if the project could be completed for less money.  “Because I'm a taxpayer also and I want to see our money go as far as it can."

*NOTE: Given current budget projections $600,000 would fund the Office of Tourism for about a year and a half.  It would fund the County Historian for about six years.

Rollie DeMay, 65, has lived in Wayne County his entire life and has visited the DMV at 9 Pearl Street since he was 17 years-old.

"People lost their jobs and now they're putting in a $600,000 elevator that's hardly ever going to be used?  It just doesn't make good sense,” DeMay said when we explained the project to him.  We also asked if he thought this elevator project would create any jobs.

“No, I wouldn't think too many.  You're going to have somebody come in, and we don't have nobody local that does anything with elevators so it's not going to be locally spent even if they do create a job, for whatever number of weeks it takes to put it in an elevator,’ DeMay said.  "My reaction is that they might better have spent the money to retain some of the employees they just got rid of trying to save money down at the nursing home.”

13WHAM News contacted Brian McMahon the Executive Director of the NYS Economic Development Councils to find out what he thought about the project.  McMahon stated that he couldn’t comment on the project’s merits but he assumed it would have received funding from the state one way or another.

"I'm sure it is needed but I don't think it should be funded through the Regional Economic Development Council," McMahon stated.  "I wouldn't classify it as ‘Economic Development’ but it is typical of many of the projects that are funded.”

Wayne County Administrator James Marquette explained this Pearl Street building is the last in the county that needs to be brought into ADA compliance.  He said the elevator needs to be constructed outside the existing building as an addition of sorts.

Marquette added that one group of people who will not question the project's cost are those with disabilities.

Waste Watch: The $600,000 elevator

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