In an unexpected and unusual move, the County Service Area 38 (Pine Cove) Advisory Committee decided to deny funding for a project at Riverside County Fire Station 23.

The committee did not oppose the project — repairing and replacing the deck on the back of the station. Rather, the cost for whole project — construction and management — had ballooned from the initial estimate of $20,000 to $110,000. The deck is only 600 square feet.

County Fire Division Chief Bill Weiser concurred with the committee’s action late Wednesday afternoon, Jan. 31. “I do not support $110,000 for a deck at this price. The deck needs work, but I don’t support taxpayer money used in this fashion,” he acknowledged, prior to the vote.

The possibility of repairing the deck was originally raised more than a year ago. Weiser argued that the work on the deck was combined with the construction of the shaded cover over the fuel tanks that the fire station and Pine Cove Water District share.

He thought the total work for both projects was estimated to cost $70,000. However, the projects got separated during the planning stages. This summer, fire officials were extensively involved with numerous fires throughout the state and did not track the progress of these projects within the county’s bureaucracy.

During this period, the county’s Economic Development Agency began drafting architectural plans, as well as making project-management efforts. The county’s initial cost estimate for the shade cover was going to be nearly $100,000. However, PCWD agreed to do the work and manage the project. The final cost was $54,000 and the county would reimburse the water district for this work.

As the architectural plans for the deck were being drafted, the county Building Department required more work to the front of the station. This would help the station ensure its compliance with the Americans with Disability Act.

Based on the final plans, the construction, the deck and ADA compliance, cost estimates were $70,000, according to Michael Franklin, principal development specialist for EDA’s Community and Cultural Services Division. To manage the project, EDA’s cost would be $40,000, which is how the total project cost became $110,000, Franklin said.

He also stressed that the project was being handled as any county construction project would be; it was not being treated as a special project. He added after the meeting, “We completely understand the frustration and concern of the Advisory Committee and general public. I think we were all surprised by the project cost. “

The project management costs were a surprise and an issue for the Advisory Committee. Early in the meeting, Committee Chair Jerry Holldber said, “$40,000 is a lot of money and lots of man-hours to oversee a deck half the size of this room.”

Franklin replied that this amount includes more than the salary for oversight. Also included are inspection fees and architectural costs. The plans are completed and the county is ready to request bids for the project if the CSA 38 committee recommends paying for it.

In response to a question about whether there was any other way to build the deck, Franklin said, “No, … it’s a county facility.”

Prior to the vote, Franklin said if the committee disapproved the project, he would meet with Supervisor Chuck Washington (3rd District), Cal Fire and EDA to discuss their options.

Committee member Thom Wallace made a motion to deny any funds for this project and said, “The county is not encouraging us to give money to projects that are worthwhile when they increase it so much. Why so much money for a small deck?”

The vote was unanimous, 4-0, with committee member Robert Hewitt absent.

After the vote, Cal Fire Capt. Robert Fish said, “The money not spent can be put to good use on other projects, such as brush cuts.”