Bidding transparency a focal point for Glenwood Council in 2019
Heading into 2019, Glenwood Springs City Council will take a closer look at its bidding practices for capital projects, with one question in mind: Should the city provide its own engineering estimates to potential contractors ahead of the formal bidding process?
Some councilors say yes, after the issue became a matter of debate among council members with several large public infrastructure projects this past year, including redevelopment along Seventh Street and the 27th Street Bridge replacement.
“We, as a public entity, need to be able to discuss our projects in open public meetings,” City Councilor Shelley Kaup said in a recent interview.
“This is public money, and projects must be vetted with respect to scope and budget,” she said. “We cannot do this behind closed doors.”
Kaup said that, when a project goes out to bid, contractors will provide competitive bids if they are interested in getting the work.
“The notion that we are somehow going to get much better pricing if we hide our estimates is misguided,” Kaup said. “The market will drive the costs.”
Other councilors disagree, however.
“If you are trying to do the absolute best job with taxpayer money, I do not believe that telling what you are willing to spend to contractors on a project, ahead of the formal bidding process, serves that money well,” Councilor Steve Davis said. “It does not have anything to do with lack of transparency, but rather everything to do with getting the most out of the taxpayers’ dollar.”
Other Roaring Fork Valley municipalities and the inter-governmental Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA), of which Glenwood Springs is a member, handle their respective bidding practices differently.
According to RFTA Procurement Manager Tammy Sommerfeld, the agency does not provide the engineering estimate prior to the bidding process. Generally speaking, she said RFTA receives bids that are in line with their own estimates on projects.
“These are only estimates,” Sommerfeld explained. “Once bids are received, they are tabulated and subject to additional evaluation … and re-bidding if it is not able to be determined fair and reasonable.”
Rebecca Hodgson, procurement officer for the city of Aspen, pointed out that anyone can go to the city’s website to see the adopted budget and what is budgeted for specific projects.
“Budgets are prepared in August for the upcoming year,” Hodgson said. “While we do not put the number(s) in the bid documents, it is a public record and available to those who are willing to look for it. We cannot award a contract if the amount exceeds the current budget amount.”
If a set of bids exceeds the budgeted amount, she said the city does one of four things: Negotiates a reduced scope of work, re-bids the project, requests additional funds through the supplemental budget, or shelves it until the following year.
“Most all of our projects come in under or on budget that I am aware of,” Hodgson added.
depends on circumstances
According to Snowmass Village City Manager Clint Kinney, “Sometimes we put out the estimates and sometimes we do not. It depends is the short answer. We know that at the end of the day, if someone asks, we need to tell.”
Basalt Town Manager Ryan Mahoney said the mid-valley town will usually tell contractors what it thinks a project might cost.
“We do not believe that this influences the bids, as they are still participating in a competitive process,” Mahoney explained. “In some cases, this may be valuable information for a contractor to know, so they can decide whether they have the capacity related to workload or financial items such as performance bonding.”
The town of Carbondale does not have a formal policy concerning the release of engineer’s estimates, but generally provides them when asked, said Carbondale Mayor Dan Richardson, also adding that the amount of funds budgeted for a project is public information.
“Engineer’s estimates are usually based on recently bid work in the area and are usually close to the actual bid amounts,” Richardson said. “But this can vary from project to project …”
Earlier this year, Glenwood Springs City Councilor Jim Ingraham stated his concerns in regards to the 27th Street Bridge project.
“I believe that had we not told the whole world exactly what we were going to pay, we would have had a range of bids that probably varied around the engineering estimates,” Ingraham said. “I think, as a result of our process, we just spent an extra two million bucks that we could spend on a lot of other things.”
Glenwood City Councilor Rick Voorhees said Tuesday, however, “Let’s be clear, construction contractors do not depend on the city’s engineering estimates. They have to come up with their own estimates, and there’s a good possibility they’ll come up with better estimates than those generated by the city.”
He added, “When contractors do not have the details of what the city wants done, there is huge room for error and miscommunication. I understand that some believe that the city can behave like the private sector and play off contractors, but I’ve yet to see evidence that hiding estimates saves money.”