Audit of Dutchess County Stabilization Center says it is way over budget

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POUGHKEEPSIE – An audit of the Dutchess County Stabilization Center at 230 North Road in Poughkeepsie finds the county exceeded its reconstruction and renovation budget by 66 percent.
County Comptroller Robin Lois said the county spent $5.68 million dollars during the period from 2014 to 2018.  The original funding request to the legislature was for $4.84 million dollars for Phase 1 and Phase 2 renovations, but she said the county spent more than $5.66 on Phase 1 alone and will likely require an additional large sum of money to complete the project.
Robert Balkind, the current commissioner of the Department of Public Works, who inherited the project from his predecessor, Noel Knille, said the audit “appears to be comprehensive and the fiscal data appears to be accurate.”
Lois, in her first-term as comptroller, has prioritized her department’s auditing to focus on the county’s capital improvement projects. 
For this audit, Lois said “we found many of the cost overages resulted from a lack of due diligence in assessing and estimating the project scope and cost.” She also said, “In addition to the overages of costs assessed to the approved project funding, we noted the use of monies appropriated for other capital projects.” 
The comptroller’s recommendations include making sure that every effort be made to accurately define projects, their scopes, and estimate their potential costs to taxpayers.  She also recommended that the funds for the projects only be spent as originally requested and approved by the legislature and that unexpended capital projects funds not be used for purposes beyond the intended authorization from the legislature.
Balkind admits that the project was underestimated but claims that due diligence was done.  According to the commissioner, through its design consultant they “attempted to perform the requisite investigations to clearly understand the existing building conditions prior to the reconstruction project.” 
Balkind cited several instances that made that impossible because of the “presence of asbestos (and) a large portion of the project area was occupied by a health services provider that prevented the design consultant from performing additional destructive testing” of the building’s interior. 
He also claimed that expediency to move the project forward regardless of costs was necessary because the project’s partners Astor, MARC and People Inc. were hiring staff and beginning to train (and) if the project was delayed, multiple agencies would have been negatively impacted.”
Lois made it clear that she backs the stabilization center saying “I personally support the mental health, detox and life-saving services offered to the residents of Dutchess County and strongly believe in the intent of diversion from local hospitals and the county jail,” while Balkind has said that in April of this year the public works department initiated a new policy to improve its process for establishing a clear project scope and estimating total project costs before a funding request is presented to the legislature.”
The full audit report along with statistics on how the stabilization center is being used can be found at https://www.dutchessny.gov/CountyGov/Departments/Comptroller/Audit-Report-on-Reconstruction-Expansion-230-North-Road.pdf