2008-04-12 / Editorials & Letters

Bowling Green 'watchdog' sniffs around road paving bids

Editor:

This time I want to write about financial responsibility and how to make sure the township gets the most bang for our buck. My focus is how our GOBs managed our last chip/seal and asphalt patching road project.

To start off on a positive note, I believe one township is doing a very good job in their recent bid. Whoever put the Franklin Township bid together did a good job of definingtheir needs and setting clear cut specificationsto measure contractor performance.

Since Bowling Green's last chip/seal debacle, I have been looking at all bid requests. I commend Franklin Township for their diligence.

Now here's how our GOB's handled our last road repair bid. We did NOT have any clear cut "written" specificationsspelled out. We simply advertised that the township needed to chip/seal and do some asphalt patching of various township roads. That was about the extent of the "written" specifications, nothing more was available in writing for the contractors to make up their final quote. What happened is that one, YES ONE, trustee had a show and tell session with each contractor. This was supposedly to show each contractor what they were being asked to do. Mind you, there was no split between the chip/seal and asphalt portion, like most townships normally do. It was all lumped together as one bid. Nothing even to specify if the contractor was to supply his own roller, his own road crew to block off the roads, etc.!

So how does a contractor quote on asphalt patching without something being clearly marked off or specified in writing ahead of time? Nothing was specified like tonnage amount, surface area to cover, thickness, flatness, etc. Could this lead to disparity in the quotes for tonnage on the asphalt? Let's say this lone trustee has a arrangement or relationship with a certain contractor and wants the bid to go one way or another. Since everything is "verbal," how would anyone know whether the bid was fair or not? All you need to do is show or tell one contractor something different than you do the other. A contractor only needs to know what minimum amount would be acceptable and then bid to that amount. You have to wonder, was one bidder already aware of this? Your guess is as good as mine.

In my opinion, any amount over the minimum specified tonnage should be considered separately, on a case by case basis. How then can one get this minimum amount? Well, we have a licensed County Engineer at the township's disposal, plus the Shelly Company will do a pre-bid review and analysis for townships as well. I was told they already do this "for free" for most other townships. Townships that want apples to apples price comparisons know that you first have to provide detailed written specifications for the bidding process.

You probably get the drift by now. You should understand why I picked out the Franklin Township bid. They put in BOLD letters that THE BID IS PER TON and estimate tonnage at between 1,000 to 1,300. Since they provide more clearly definedwritten requirements up front, they get more comparable quotes back. Since we did NOT clearly definethe requirements on our last bid, our final quotes varied widely, which I believe was by design. It appears that we already knew which contractor was going to get the business, so all we needed was to make that happen, using only the total numbers.

I asked for a copy of the bids, looked at each part individually and have all of the hard data/numbers for each road on my website (see will-kern.com). What the final quotes showed is that Shelly Company quoted $54,759.90 for chip/seal and the "winning" bidder was at $59,362.58. So clearly, Shelly Company was the LOW bidder, by over $4,600, on that part of the competition. But now it got interesting, since this request for quotes was "combined", you also had to look at the asphalt patching part. Shelly had a total of 542 tons and the "winning" bidder only had 220.8 tons listed. That is a huge tonnage difference! So knowing how the specifications for this project were defined,you ask yourself how could that huge difference in tonnage have happened?

The Shelly Company listed their quote as $68.00/ton and the "winning" bidder listed it as $78.31/ton. Clearly Shelly Company was the low bidder again by over $10 a ton. But the overall numbers were way out of line, since the total dollar amount for Shelly on the asphalt portion was $36,856.00 versus $17,275.19 for the "winning" bidder. So ask yourself, are we really comparing apples versus apples (542 tons versus 220.6 tons?) any more? Are we giving each contractor a fair shake here? I DO NOT think so! Based on my many years of government contracting experience, this huge disparity was a direct result of unclear "written" specificationsand could have been easily avoided or even corrected, before any final award was made.

Now there is probably a price break, if you go over a certain tonnage. If we told Shelly we only wanted 220 tons, it may have cost some more per ton, but how much? Would it have been over $78 per ton? Would it have overcome their original $4,600 low quote on the chip/seal? I don't think so! Transportation costs are a big driver on this sort of project and Shelly is a local company. They are much closer to the actual work site and their production facilities, so that should translate to a lower quote in the end. But sadly, we never asked that question. The award was made that night and the GOBs had obviously achieved their goal. They found the low bidder they liked. Only our third trustee, Trustee Chorpenning caught this obvious disparity. He didn't want to vote that night. But then, one vote on a board of three does not mean much.

So the bottom line is, if we had followed Franklin Township's example and developed detailed written specifications, I bet the final bids would have been more competitive. I believe our township could have easily saved almost $7,000 on this project. Adding that savings to our budget, we could have also easily done a chip/seal of the Brownsville alleys which had actually been planned that year anyway.

One final note to this saga: On the night of the bid vote, one long time resident in attendance told me exactly what our oldest trustee was going to say. I was totally amazed; it was word for word exactly what he said! Will Kern Bowling Green Township

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