Saturday, February 1, 2014
COMCAST, INSURANCE AND THE ROADS
The Cable TV contract of a few years ago and the Paving of the Roads are examples of the same thing: projects with no perfect solution due to fiscal constraints. Such projects make great fodder for the critics.
The Cable TV Contract:
About a year before our old Comcast contract expired, wise heads in the Village realized it was time to begin researching a new contract. Wait until you have no time and you have much less leverage in negotiating a favorable contract. Dave Israel was not UCO president then; George Loewenstein was—but Dave headed up the committee to look into our options. At stake were millions of dollars, and Dave realized we needed to hire a professional to do the research. Comcast was a giant in the industry. The committee, aided by this professional, checked out a number of Cable TV companies, finally narrowing the number down to three, of which one was Comcast itself.
Competitive Bidding, How It Saved Thousands on Insurance:
The procedure was not unlike what Toni Salometo guided us through after Dave had become UCO president, in deciding which insurance agency to have provide the Village’s ten or eleven insurances on our buildings. Before then—unbelievably—there had been no competitive bidding. The result of putting this out for bid was a windfall for our cash-strapped associations. It saved each of our 20-26-unit associations on the order of several thousand dollars the first year the switch was made from Plastridge to Brown & Brown. How that helped our strained association budgets! Thank you, Toni, and thank you, Dave, for insisting on competitive bidding. And thanks too, to Jean Dowling, who was in the forefront of the move to challenge Plastridge’s “lock” on our business.
Negotiating with Comcast:
But back to the Cable TV contract. Of the three offers, it seemed the Comcast offer was the best. But this was a “new” Comcast, a Comcast that now stood to lose our business and was now agreeable to better terms than had we simply renewed with them. A difficulty remained, however: there were many Comcast options available. The more you opted for, of course the more it cost. You could get more sports, you could get Turner Classics, and you could get the HBO movies, but only by paying more or swapping for other desirable channels. The Committee had to make a judgment: which of the available packages to go with to get the best overall value for our residents without incurring costs we couldn’t bear.
We got HBO movies under the old contract and many residents liked them, but the same movie would often run for a long time, and the HBO channels were steadily being cut out by Comcast during the transition from analog to digital that was taking place. Up against the industry giant, we could do virtually nothing about this. The fine print in the old contract allowed Comcast to drop analog channels of their choice if they replaced each with four digital channels, as I remember it.
There is no way everyone gets satisfied in such a situation. No matter how good a job the Committee did, the outcome would provide ammunition for critics. It can be debated forever whether the Committee selected the best options. It is one thing to criticize their choice; it is another thing—and reprehensible in my opinion—to trash the Committee’s efforts as a whole, as some of those seeking political advantage have done. Some have been critical of the provision in the contract for Comcast to raise its rates by 5% each year. Do they think the company is stupid? This is merely keeping pace with inflation. Overall, I think the Committee did a very good job. And let us not forget, the Village received a huge chunk of cash in the agreement with Comcast, some of which was used to pay off the mortgage on the new UCO building, which replaced the one lost in a hurricane.
Paving of the Roads:
A similar situation existed with the roads in the Village. As VP Dom Guarnagia explains in his Page 9 article in the January 2014 Reporter, most of our roads do not drain like those in a city, where all the rainwater is carried away by storm drains. Along the perimeter drive, yes, there are drains. Runoff rainwater there generally flows first into swales, those low areas beside the roads, and they then funnel the runoff into storm drains. Fixing these drains, many of which had become filled in with debris, was the first step in the road paving project—AND a part of the reason it cost as much as it did.
In the case of the non-perimeter roads (by far the majority of our roads), we rely in large part on nothing more than the adjacent land (grass, etc.) absorbing runoff rainwater from the roads. As Dom points out, we don’t have sidewalks and curbing elevated above the paved streets. The cost to have removed all the old asphalt before laying down the new asphalt would have been astronomical, so we settled for simply laying down new asphalt over the old in most places. In some places, where it was known that the further flooding would be especially severe, the old asphalt was removed. Thus a number of associations, including my own, have experienced more flooding from the roads onto our walkways since the repaving.
Solutions Are Sometimes of Necessity Less than Perfect:
My point is, there was no fiscally responsible way the Village could have contracted for the perfect solution: to have storm drains carry off the rainwater from everywhere. That would have been a massive project amounting to almost rebuilding the entire Village. As with the Comcast contract, we had to settle for a less-than-perfect solution—in this instance the continued temporary flooding of certain areas in heavy rains. And as with the Comcast contract, those in a rush to judgment, not to mention politically-motivated critics, could cry, “Bad job!”
I don’t mean to deny that the paving part of the road work was less than perfect in some places. I’m sure some corners were cut, and perhaps our own oversight of the project was not all it could have been. But some of this just goes with the territory in such a large project. I do understand that a company that specializes in evaluating road work was hired to do this here after the paving was completed, and they gave the job high marks.
It’s very easy being a Monday morning quarterback. You find a few things that went wrong in an otherwise well-done job—a job, incidentally, that another company chosen to do the work might REALLY have botched—and then you major on the minor and beat the drum about these few things. After awhile people buy this cheap criticism and acquire a warped view of the results. They begin to believe the whole project—which actually went quite well for such projects—was a disaster. NOT TRUE.
I don’t claim to have 20-20 hindsight or to know all the particulars, including the financial, but that’s how I see it. I should say too that when it comes to big projects such as these three—projects that others have sweat over and I have not—it is only decent in my opinion to cut those making the decisions some slack, and be slow to judge. I would like to be treated that way myself. I think Dave’s administration and the involved committees have done very well by us on the major issues.