Glenwood Springs’ bidding process to get a closer look in coming months
The city of Glenwood Springs’ bidding process has raised one major question over the past year: Does showing engineering estimates to potential contractors, ahead of the formal bidding process, make projects like that of the Seventh Street beautification or the 27th Street Bridge reconstruction more expensive?
At the Oct. 4 regular Glenwood Springs City Council meeting, At Large Councilor Jim Ingraham voiced frustration when the bids for the reconstruction of the 27th Street Bridge were 18 percent higher than the most recent engineers’ estimates for the project.
Councilors did not fault city engineers, who explained, “It is extremely difficult to accurately account for items such as risk, limited staging and access on a project of this complexity.” However, the discussion, particularly Ingraham’s comments, called into question the effectiveness of the city’s bidding process and whether it was jeopardizing taxpayer money.
“I am very concerned, again, about the procedure that we go through,” Ingraham stated, in this instance pertaining to the 27th Street Bridge reconstruction. He added that he would vote against or abstain from voting for anymore major project until a public discussion of the process could occur.
Had the engineering estimates not been disclosed ahead of the bidding, those bids may have varied around those estimates, he said.
“I think, as a result of our process, we just spent an extra 2 million bucks that we could spend on a lot of other things,” he said. “Until we have that public discussion that is going to be my position, and by public I do not mean answering silly articles in the newspaper or getting on the social media and doing all of that. I mean a public debate that we have amongst ourselves, and then I will live with the answer.”
Ingraham told the Post Independent Monday that he did not want such a conversation regarding the city’s bidding process to continue to unfold in the middle of specific project discussions. Rather, he wants a separate conversation centered around the city’s bidding practice.
Although no conversation has taken place, yet, Ingraham said it would in the near future.
Ingraham made clear that his philosophy of not releasing engineers’ estimates until the bids from contractors were in had nothing to do with keeping the spending of public tax dollars out of public view. Instead, it has everything to do with getting the most out of taxpayer money, he said.
“I believe it is a disservice to the citizens in several ways to release the engineers’ estimates at that time,” Ingraham said. “We, basically, are telling the bidding contractors here is a number we will live with, and, not surprisingly in my opinion, the bids tend to come back 10 to 20 percent higher almost every time.”
Glenwood Springs Ward 2 City Councilor Rick Voorhees holds a different opinion than Ingraham, but like his fellow councilor said he was hopeful that council as a whole can figure out how the city could save money through the bidding process.
“I think everyone on council is focused on saving taxpayer dollars,” Voorhees told the Post Independent. “The approach taken by individual councilors was different several months ago, however, and may still be different going forward.
“I have a hard time believing that releasing all elements of an intended city project taints the bidding process,” Voorhees added. “In fact, it costs city taxpayers more when contractors are forced to play cat and mouse, in trying to figure out what the city wants done.
“By being upfront and transparent, the city can reduce ambiguity for citizens as well as contractors, and that in turn ensures accountability,” he said.
Voorhees disagrees with the philosophy that government should function more like a private business.
“As a private businessman, I agree that there is much that we can learn about efficiency,” he said. “At the same time, when the public perceives that major decisions involving millions of dollars are made behind closed doors, we create more problems than we seek to solve.”
Concluded Ingraham, “I want to see an open, honest debate, backed up by research, and then let the chips fall where they will. And I think that will happen in the next couple of months.”
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The city of Glenwood Springs has proposed investing $5.76 million for street improvements in the 2020 budget.