A $2,820 annual service charge for Transwick radios for the Pilgrim Senior Center triggered a council debate Wednesday on the extension of existing contracts without going out for bids. Nevertheless, it was approved by an 8-0 vote, with Ward 4 Councilman Joseph Solomon abstaining.
Solomon, who said he chose to abstain because he felt the item should go out to bid, questioned why the contract was being awarded without going out to bid since it had not been bid upon since 2009.
Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson, who chairs the Finance Committee, said the city would exercise the option for a fourth year after a three-year contract. Also, she said the amount was far below all of the other bids at the time it was initially bid out. The price has not changed.
But Solomon said it’s impossible to know whether or not the provider is still the lowest cost since the city has not gone out to bid since 2009.
“It is now 2013,” said Solomon. “How do we know what the current bids would be in 2013 if we have not gone out to bid on this contract?”
Meg Underwood of the Pilgrim Senior Center echoed Vella-Wilkinson’s words in terms of their desire to exercise the option for the fourth year, as well as the fact that the bid was much lower than the other bids in 2009. In addition, she said that
Radio and Phone Communications, Inc. of West Warwick, the company they have been dealing with, has been providing great service.
Solomon wasn’t satisfied.
“So, we don’t know that this is the lowest possible bid four years later on this particular service,” Solomon said. “Just because they do a great job, you think we should continue the contract without going out to bid. Is that what you’re saying?”
Underwood said that because the prices have been stable over the last four years, the choice seemed to make sense.
During a brief phone interview Friday, Solomon said, “Though someone might have been the lower bidder in 2009, a lot of businesses are struggling and we should give them an opportunity. Maybe their bids will come in lower than 2009. It’s a way of assuring the taxpayers get the best value for their dollar.”
At the meeting, Ward 9 Councilman Steven Merolla agreed with Solomon, saying that it’s important for department heads to always go out to bid. It’s much more “fruitful,” he said, to follow bid specifications.
“I think that we should follow the ordinances that say that you have to go out to bid to get the best price for the taxpayer, otherwise it’s going to set a trend, and I think it has set a trend over the last few years where we get these no-bid contracts,” said Merolla.
Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur, who owns and operates StormTite Home Improvement, said given the economy, companies are constantly negotiating with everyone they do business with.
“The competitive edge is becoming more and more noticeable to us,” he said. “The bid process is very important to what we do, and I think it’s something that we adhere to. Perhaps the numbers may not come in lower, but I’m finding in my own private sector experience, the numbers are coming in lower, and that competitive edge is important in what we do.”
Solomon said it’s not this bid in particular, nor is it the amount, the director or the department. Instead, said Solomon, it’s a matter of uniformity between departments and procedure.
“I understand there are situations that get behind us, but that’s why we have those ordinances,” he said. “I don’t believe there’s something wrong, [but] you can’t treat departments differently and you can’t treat bids differently. If we’re not going to stick to the law, what are we doing here? Why are we even passing ordinances? Let’s stick to what the book says as relative to going out to bid on these things, let’s stick to the timeframe; let’s not continue contracts because we feel comfortable with the vender.”
Merolla went on to express his frustration that department heads are not adhering to budget codes and going over budget. There have been situations, he said, where they have spent more than $1,000 above a budget code because they weren’t labeling what codes funds are coming from.
“For the last three or four years has been going by the waste side,” Merolla said. “When these items come before us, I’d like to see that we start following the ordinance that says we have to go out to bid to make sure that we are getting the best price, and that also the department heads start putting in what budget code it is and that we’re not over that budget code in the paperwork they give us.”
Vella-Wilkinson told him not to fear, as she said she is in the process of putting a template together for just that purpose. She estimates it will be ready for use within the month.