New Castle News

New Castle

September 21, 2012

Our Opinion: New Castle school district shouldn’t drag its feet on what’s owed

NEW CASTLE — The planned construction of an elementary school at New Castle’s Lockley site continues to generate controversy.

Sharp differences exist in the community over whether or not to build the new facility. Critics contend it makes no sense to construct a new building in a district that’s financially strapped and dealing with declining enrollment.

Supporters, however, say that over the long term, the plan to construct a new building and close four aging structures will be less expensive than renovating what’s already there.

The project has advanced in fits and starts, in part because of differences on the city school board and because the first round of bidding produced results that were higher than anticipated. The district is now seeking new bids with a scaled-back proposal.

Even without the main construction contract in place, major projects such as this require assorted preliminary work. And the bills for those efforts have been coming in to the district.

Last week, the New Castle school board voted 6-3 not to pay roughly $38,000 owed to several companies handling early tasks on the Lockley project. The argument given in favor of delaying payments was to wait until the new bids are opened.

Why? The work in question apparently has been performed. And we presume it was performed in satisfactory fashion. What rationale exists for not paying companies that completed their agreed-to responsibilities?

Apparently, some board members are concerned the next round of bids for the Lockley project will again come in too high. We suppose that’s possible, and it may prompt the district to rethink the whole thing.

But even if that happens, it doesn’t change anything regarding work that’s already completed. It simply makes no sense for the district to delay payments that are due.

For one thing, timely payments for work performed is a responsible act. Everyone and every entity ought to pay their bills on time.

Beyond that, what message does this sort of delay send to businesses and contractors that might be interested in working with the district? If they conclude there will be difficulties prying their money out of the New Castle school system, they may pass.

Plus, there is also the possibility a business could take the district to court for failing to pay in timely fashion. That would cost additional money, and produce more than a little embarrassment.

We also note that when these matters were discussed last week, a proposal was made to handle some issues in executive session. That would be illegal on the part of board members.

The paying of bills involves use of public funds and needs to be done in the open. Any future discussions on this subject must be handled that way.

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