Tampa Bay Water is overpaying consultants

Tampa Bay Water recently voted to hire KPMG consultants for nearly $1 million to help hire contractors who will repair cracks in a reservoir.

The utility’s board wants to get the best contractors for its money to complete the $125 million repairs to the C.W. Bill Young Regional Reservoir in Hillsborough County – but it approved an appalling $908,500 just for consultants.

Under the contract with KPMG, the board will pay a senior partner $350 an hour for 680 hours of work and senior staff members $300 an hour for 1,440 hours, according to the Tampa Tribune.

Paying someone $350 an hour is an unjustifiably high wage, no matter how important the job is.

KPMG is a large firm that “provides audit, tax and advisory services and industry insight to help organizations negotiate risks and perform in the dynamic and challenging environments in which they do business,” according to its Web site. The firm made headlines in 2005 for selling controversial tax shelters.

The contract was approved last week in a 5-4 vote. The utility’s board wasted the money of more than 2.4 million Tampa Bay area residents whose water bills finance it, and it let down the six local governments it serves: Hillsborough County, Pasco County, Pinellas County, New Port Richey, St. Petersburg and Tampa.

Proponents of the contract wanted to make sure they hired the right contractors after two previous contractors went out of business while working on a desalination plant.

“Our reputation is on the line,” said St. Petersburg City Council member James Bennett to his fellow board members at a meeting. The board’s actions, however, have already tarnished the reputation it was trying to protect.

The board also hired Black & Veatch, another consultant, to help oversee repairs, though no price has been established for the contract. Tampa Bay Water called on Black & Veatch in the past to help with the desalination plant.

They may also approve yet another consultant contract with the National Research Council for a scientific review of any repair plans. The original contract, which is under revision, would have cost $999,000.

Charlie Miranda, a Tampa City Council member on the board, questioned the need for consultants, according to the St. Petersburg Times.

“I don’t know how we can substantiate spending $1 million on each one of them,” he said. “You mean we don’t have enough engineers on staff who could do this?”

Miranda also pointed out that there are not many contractors to choose from for such a specialized job.

“I’m going to pay somebody $1 million just to interview, what, two people?” he said.

The rest of Tampa Bay Water needs listen to Miranda’s logic: don’t contract the National Research Council, and reconsider the existing contracts.