Municipal project cost overrides aren’t anything new, but with cash-strapped Alaska communities, city officials face tougher decisions when unforeseen expenditures come up.

Wrangell Borough Assembly members went through budget item after budget item at Tuesday’s regular meeting. Maintaining and repairing city properties is a priority for the borough, but this week the assembly was asked to approve unforeseen costs for City Dock projects.

Borough Manager Lisa Von Bargen presented the assembly with almost an additional $60,000 cost for the Waterfront Armor Rock and Electrical City Dock projects, which have already been completed.

Harbor Master Greg Meissner said contractors on the project encountered severe damage to the culvert. The culvert was jammed with debris and materials that had to be flushed out. While that damage was unforeseeable, Meissner said city staff also avoided hiring a surveyor upfront to appraise the needed maintenance.

“Our attempt was to not bring in an engineer who we pay them to survey it and then design it,” Meissner said.  Forgoing a hired consultant does save on costs.

Meissner said a project would cost the same whether you know the expense upfront or at the end of the project.

The only problem is city and assembly officials need to approve projects and the costs before construction gets underway.

Von Bargen said city officials could underestimate costs because the staff don’t always have the needed personnel or expertise to get the numbers just right.

“What we have done is we’ve put [the assembly] in a position where you have no choice but to say ‘yes’, and that’s not a comfortable position to be in,” Von Bargen said. “We have the money in these funds to pay for this stuff, but what if we didn’t.”

That’s something assembly member Stephen Prysunka wants to see remedied.

 “My fear with this is as we’re evaluating projects we’re saying ‘yes’ to some and ‘no’ to others, we may have postponed that project in favor of another project,” Prysunka said.  “So in many ways our agenda is being set for us with theses change orders, and I don’t like that.”

Von Bargen said she and her staff will assess the complexity of future projects to recommend to the assembly whether in-house staff or hired experts are the best financial forecasters.