City wades through Pinney Pool legal issues

Public works procedures, liability concerns addressed before moving forward

City wades through Pinney Pool legal issuesSgt. John Pinney Memorial Pool, closed last year due to insufficient funds for maintenance and ADA compliance. — Courtesy Photo

By BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

While construction of the city splash pad is back on track, officials at City Hall are still trying to get their arms around how to reopen Pinney Pool. Local organizations like the Lions Club and Ridgecrest Shoutouts have mobilized to raise funds while local contractors led by Cordell Construction are ready to volunteer some of their services — but a joint venture between the community and the city is proving to be more complicated than it seems.

“The biggest issue we have right now is dealing with prevailing wages,” said City Manager Ron Strand. According to Strand, anyone laboring on a public works project must be paid prevailing wages – which he says would be about 40 percent more expensive then letting a private entity handle the job.

According to Strand and Parks and Recreation Director Jason Patin, the city is still waiting on a report from legal counsel to know if there’s any way the city can be involved without creating a prevailing wage requirement.

“Originally the idea was for the city to pay for materials so that local contractors could provide in-kind services or at least perform construction duties at a lower rate than what is required of a public works project. But it’s looking like any involvement from the city makes this a public works project – which means red tape.

“Believe me, I appreciate and applaud all of this effort coming from the community and I hope that we can be successful,” said Patin.

“But there are laws we have to follow, and we want to prevent legal issues down the road. We’re not trying to hold this up, we want this as much as anybody. But we have to make sure there are no liabilities and we do this correctly, legitimately and ethically.”

To further complicate matters, the city would have to put any public works project out to bid – something staff was trying to avoid in the first place. Putting projects out to bid takes time and money. And outside companies can traditionally come in and undercut local contractors.

“We can’t just hand a public project off to someone; it has to go out for a competitive bid. We’re talking dollar amounts in the excess of $1 million if we have to do that,” said Patin.

He offered an example of what a prevailing wages workaround might look like: “Say the city buys playground equipment and I have a group of citizens who say, ‘We’re going to voluntarily install that for you.’ We can do that as long as nobody gets paid at all. But it has to be a 100-percent volunteer project.

“But somebody’s going to have to be paid for this project because you have cement-truck operators, framers, specialized equipment — this is going to be a big job.

“Again, I appreciate what everybody’s been trying to do, but we have to make sure we’re protecting the city’s liability,” said Patin. “We can’t move forward if it isn’t the best interest of the city.”

He said the legal report should be done in time to be heard during the Aug. 15 city council meeting.

Strand added that the city is still working on a parks assessment district — a property tax that would go directly to the city for parks maintenance, repairs and upgrades.

Funds from the assessment, he said, would certainly be used to go toward the pool if plans fall through.

Meanwhile, the Ridgecrest Lions Club has finished its accounting of funds from the Pinney Pool fundraiser on July 21, a joint effort between the Lions and Ridgecrest Shoutouts!

After expenses the event raised $22,747.40 and the organizations have received some $5,700 in continued donations.

“The event itself would not have been as successful as it was if not for the special sponsorship of the Timbisha Shoshone Tribal Council,” said the report.

“We’re grateful as well for the generosity of our two $5,000 sponsors: Ridgecrest Regional Hospital and McDonald’s of Ridgecrest.”

Organizers had originally announced a fundraising goal of $60,000, but have since said that the only firm goal is to get the pool back open. They plan continuedfundraising.

“Look for our ‘Pennies of Pinney Pool’ boxes and jars located at businesses throughout the community.

“Those boxes and jars will help keep Pinney Pool in the minds of the community as we move forward,” said the report.

Organizers are working on a Facebook page that will allow them to communicate information on further fundraising efforts.

Story First Published: 2018-08-03