October 20, 2011 |

Consultants to lead borough's big jobs

The Haines Borough is looking to contractors for planning and execution of its major projects, including an expanded port and a "community" center. It also will seek at least one contractor for "special projects."

Pay for the port consultant is expected to come from a state grant; other consultants’ pay would come from economic development and engineering services accounts, according to borough manager Mark Earnest.

"I’ve got literally dozens and dozens of projects that are just stacked up," Earnest said. "Every project is important, every project has a constituency and it’s a priority. We’re moving forward in myriad ways, and we need to bring people into the process."

A public notice posted at the borough’s website for a special projects consultant seeks "interested individuals who have experience in the areas of economic development, grant writing, planning, and project development and management." Applications were due Oct. 19.

Earnest said he considered several options, "wrestling with this whole idea of economic development director, of hiring on a contract and doing some targeted economic development opportunities and specific grants" following Debra Schnabel’s July departure as executive assistant to the manager.

"I think this is really the best way to proceed forward on this in the most economical way," Earnest said. "The idea would be to have maybe a group, maybe two or three, some number (of people), that would have specific expertise on grant writing, for example, or some other facet of development that would qualify."

He said hiring consultants for some projects "isn’t new," and referred to Juneau consultant Barbara Sheinberg’s work on the comprehensive plan and Schnabel’s years as a contractor for the borough. In January, Schnabel was reclassified as a non-union, temporary employee.

Earnest said local consultants would be employed on a short-term, contract basis, "from time to time on special projects," with approval from the Haines Borough Assembly.

"We have a workload here that’s as much as Unalaska, and we have less than half the number of employees," said Earnest, who previously worked at Dutch Harbor. "For staff, I’m not advocating for any more than what I’ve outlined, but if people want to see projects completed, this is the way to do it. Otherwise, you’re kind of overwhelmed with just the sheer number of projects."

Earnest said a September contract with resident Darsie Culbeck to prepare a "request for qualifications" for port development was "kind of a trial run" for the role of a special projects consultant. Earnest said money for the consultants would come from the borough’s economic development budget.

Culbeck, Earnest, Mayor Jan Hill and Robert Venables of Southeast Conference last month traveled to Whitehorse to spur more collaboration between the two municipalities.

Culbeck’s contract with the borough said he would provide "professional consulting services on an as-needed basis" through September and be paid $45 an hour.

Jila Stuart, borough chief fiscal officer, said Culbeck earned $1,778 under the contract. The professional services agreement, with a cost of less than $10,000, did not require assembly approval.

Assemblyman Jerry Lapp, chair of the borough’s personnel and labor relations committee, on Oct. 4 said he "wasn’t aware of Darsie’s involvement" as a borough consultant. "I don’t think the manager has said anything about it."

The request for qualifications Culbeck worked on seeks a consulting firm to guide a new Haines Port Development Steering Committee.

The request says "approximately 60 percent of the work product" for the selected firm "will be allocated to the preparation of a constructible conceptual plan for the short term, including an actionable business plan, for a port development project to be completed within five years." Responses are due Friday, Oct. 21.

Earnest said the borough would use a $120,000 legislative grant for the plan.

"In theory, there could be additional (consultant) work," he said. "We would want to, at some point, move into a full-blown feasibility study, if it appears there are some reasonable opportunities here. It becomes more important to go down this path now, because of the moratorium on federal earmarks."

The borough also will advertise for firms to assist with planning for a community center, to "guide us through the entire process, all the way through construction," Earnest said.

"On the community center, we recognize that there isn’t a specific appropriation for the work yet, and what we’ll do is have a budget amendment that will identify funding for that, so that when we have those negotiations, we can make that recommendation to the assembly," he said.

Earnest said the selected firm would use some "programming" information previously compiled by MRV Architects of Juneau.

"One of the first issues would be to define the phases and what makes sense to pursue in the first phase," he said. "I know there’s support for a recreation component, and there’s support for administrative offices, so we’ll just try to figure out how to, basically, lay out a plan that can best accommodate those priorities."

Upcoming requests for proposals will address borough land sales, repair of the Chilkat Center roof, an Excursion Inlet hydro reconnaissance study, and collection of junk and impounded vehicles, Earnest wrote in a recent manager’s report for the assembly.