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Ask Mr. Answer Person: A reader asks how much money is spent on engineering services by the City of Decorah

Posted: Sat, Nov 3, 2012 7:59 PM

Jerry e-mails Mr. Answer Person: "It seems as though the topic of conversation in the community are the large costs to the tax payer, whether it is the Winneshiek Medical Center, the Short Street project, the Bicycle Trail, etc. . My question to the "Answer Person" is, what are the costs for the Engineering Company that oversees most of the projects around Decorah? I have heard that it ranges in the neighborhood of $400,000 to $600,000 a year. Wouldn't the City be better off hiring a City employed Engineer like the County does? I would appreciate your investigative answer on this."

Mr. Answer Person says: "Let me answer your first question first.  The City of Decorah paid Erdman Engineering $480,000 in the 2010 fiscal year, $460,000 in the 2011 fiscal year and $700,000 in the 2012 fiscal year.  The 2012 fiscal year spending was a little unusual because it included higher-than-normal spending on the Trout Run Trail, Short Street, Metronet and other projects.

So let's tackle you second question next.  Spending has averaged around $500,000 a year for engineering services for the City of Decorah.  So should the City Finance Committee figure out whether this money is being spent wisely?  Absolutely.  But it's important to point out that the County Engineer employs a staff of other engineers.  So we're not talking about hiring one engineer—we're talking about hiring a staff of engineers to do all the city's engineering work—and even then consulting engineers would be hired for areas in which the staff engineers didn't have any expertise.
Finally, what is motivating talk of a city-employed Engineer?  Is this seen as a money-saving move?  Or is it a case of unhappiness that Short Street has been torn up—and would it be any different if such a project were done by a city-employed Engineer?  As a news reporter who has covered news in communities that have used both systems, I can tell you a city-employed Engineer is subject to no less criticism than an independent engineering firm is.

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