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Road committee debate: to bid or not to bid

By Daniel Dunkle | Feb 17, 2021
Source: Screenshot Hope's Roads Advisory Committee meets Feb. 11 online.

Hope — The town’s Roads Advisory Committee discussed the need for long-range planning, investing more into road maintenance and whether to put projects out to bid, during its Feb. 11 meeting.

The committee plans to create a report for the Select Board to provide solutions to road questions.

Select Board member Bruce Haffner, who attended the online meeting, said the town should look at the hourly rates for Road Commissioner John Monroe on big jobs in the town, saying large pieces of equipment provided by the commissioner might be rented elsewhere at a lower rate.

Monroe said it is also important to look at the rates for moving those pieces of equipment around. Not only does the town have to rent a piece of construction equipment, but it has to get it to the site, which Monroe currently takes care of for the town.

There was some discussion about whether projects should go out to bid. Monroe takes on projects for the town at what officials refer to as the "state rate," according to statements made in the meeting. He presents his budget to the Select Board and budget committee for approval and the projects do not go out to bid.

Haffner said projects over $5,000 should be put out to bid. He said there could be a provision for Monroe to take the project for the bid price or let the bidder take it.

“If you’re going to put any of the work out to bid, put it all out to bid because I won’t be interested,” Monroe said.

At one point he also said, “That’s how I get reimbursed for what I do.”

Haffner said maybe the town should pay a larger stipend for the job of road commissioner, such as $10,000, and have the commissioner put projects out to bid for the town.

Doug Merrill, of the committee, said this was all discussed before when the roads issues were considered in 2010 and 2011.

Monroe said to put projects out to bid, you need specs on what the contractors are bidding on and have to have someone supervise that those specs are followed.

Todd Snyder said one of the drawbacks to bids is that they could come in high. He said it does not always work out to lower the budget.

Monroe added that it becomes hard to budget when everything is put out to bid.

Haffner said the recent snowplow bids are a perfect example of the bids coming in high.

He went on to say that Rockport puts out specifications for its town road jobs.

There was some discussion about planning further ahead. Monroe said he would need help and insight to create a plan for future years.

Haffner said at the meeting that the town of Washington has saved money by hiring its own team of three people to do road work.

Part of the issue has been that the town has been trying to pay a minimum for road maintenance work and some on the committee saw the result as making repairs when there is a problem. They said that is reactionary.

Committee Chair Rick Bresnahan said proper maintenance could save on rebuild costs down the road and said it is time for a long-term plan.

“Cheap has not paid off,” he said.

Monroe said the budget has been limited. In addition, he pointed out that last year the whole budget committee voted against the roads budget.

William Jones, of the budget committee, said that roads budget was voted down due to the snowplow contract, which came in too high during the bidding process. He said the Select Board sent it out to bid several times and that ultimately, the business hired has been doing a good job plowing the roads.

He noted that Haffner had presented ideas for ways to save on the town’s costs including creating a public works department, hiring a team and buying trucks, so that the town could plow its own roads.

Voting down the roads budget was the only way the budget committee saw to get the snowplowing budget revisited.

The debate over the issue has been among the issues that have plunged the Hope town government into turmoil. Haffner put out flyers and went door-to-door campaigning against the roads budget, and was recorded in a phone call saying he planned to take down town officials, including Monroe. Haffner has said he meant that in the political arena. Haffner is now the subject of a recall election along with budget committee member, Elinor Goldberg.

In addition, the town meeting items in the July 14 election, including the controversial roads budget, had varied ballot counts. In August the Select Board admitted there were errors made in counting the ballots for the town meeting items. Whether they can study the ballots or tally sheets currently sealed in the ballot box to determine what happened is still a matter of debate in Select Board meetings.

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