October 24, 2014
Rate this
Tabs on taxpayers’ money, drop by drop
Warwick Beacon photo
EMPTY BOTTLE: Diane Higgins holds up an empty water bottle. Higgins regularly buys the water at the Pilgrim Senior Center. It sells for 55 cents.

What’s in a bottle of water?

Ward 4 Councilman Joseph Solomon sees more than water.

For him, the seven cases of bottled water, which is all part of a $4,000 bid to provide food for the Pilgrim Senior Center coffee shop, is an example why more diligence is needed on how the taxpayers’ dollars are being spent.

The $7.88 per 24 16.9oz bottle case jumped out because his wife had seen a similar case of water selling for about $5 at BJ’s. Why should the city pay $7.88 when it could get the water for less at BJ’s?

And it’s not just water. Solomon believes there are other instances where the city is paying more than it needs to.

“This is not an issue of a bottle of water,” he said at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, “this is a $4,000 expenditure. If we keep going the way we’re going, we’re going to be deeper and deeper.”

Solomon said Meg Underwood, director of senior services, was being “nonchalant” about the added cost because the water, as well as the rest of the food and beverages included in the package, will be sold at the center coffee shop. Proceeds cover costs and yield a small profit that goes back into center programs. As it is, a bottle of water costing the city 33 cents sells for 51 cents at the coffee shop. Once sales tax is added in, the amount is 55 cents.

Underwood said she hasn’t heard any complaints about the cost of water, which, she added, sells for $1.25 a bottle at most retail outlets.

But could the city buy the water for less?

“I’m not saying it doesn’t matter,” Underwood told the council. She noted, however, if she or members of the center staff were to spend their time shopping for the best deal, the cost of gas and lost time would be significantly more than the two to three dollars saved on a case of water.

But the prospect of savings, and not just on bottled water, resonated.

“We need to be much more diligent in saving the taxpayers’ dollars,” said Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur. A contractor, Ladouceur said he reviews all his invoices and is constantly checking prices. Without doing that, he said, he would be out of business.

“Send out a list to Sam’s Club and let’s see where the numbers come in,” he suggested.

Ward 1 Councilman Steven Colantuono thought that would be problematic because, he said, Sam’s Club won’t accept purchase orders.

It’s not that the city doesn’t shop.

The items, including the bottled water, were itemized in bid specifications that were advertised, as well as sent to possible vendors. In this case, the city received a single bid – that of Perkins Co. – and that being the only bid, it was recommended for award.

Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson, who chairs the finance committee, questioned what the council would have her do.

“At some point there is a cost to send these people to Job Lot and Sam’s. Are we here to micro manage purchases and at what level?” she said.

“To be nonchalant, that’s the wrong attitude, it’s not doing your job,” Solomon said slamming his desk.

“That’s not micro managing,” responded Ladouceur. “My job is the gatekeeper. This is a concept to save taxpayer dollars. That’s good business.”

Vella-Wilkinson said she understood, “It’s not a bottle of water. It’s a philosophy. Just tell me what you want to look for.”

“If you’re not a watchdog on a case of water, what else are you not looking at? You have to save where you can save,” retorted Solomon.

Ladouceur said the city needs to do a better job of soliciting bids. He said he finds it difficult to understand why the city only gets a single vendor responding to a bid so frequently.

The debate over but still without a directive about how future bids should be further scrutinized, the council voted unanimously to grant the $4,000 contract with Perkins.

The following morning, at the grand re-opening of Sam’s Club, the discussion resumed. Mayor Scott Avedisian saw problems with city employees shopping for the best retail deals, noting that they would need to be authorized to make tax-exempt purchases. The city does not pay sales tax.

“I feel it is the department heads’ responsibility to go over the bids,” Vella-Wilkinson said. She has reviewed purchasing with department directors and seen how they operate.

“I can say they spend the taxpayers’ money as they spend their own,” she said. “We’re not looking at a smoking gun for waste and abuse here.”

But, as she was at Sam’s Club, she also took the occasion to inquire whether the club would be interested in bidding on city purchases. Manager Gabriel Urueta said he would look into it.

Underwood said Friday that Perkins “has given [the center] great service.”

“Our intention is to have a nice coffee shop for seniors,” she said.


Comments
7 comments on this item

This is appalling but not surprising. Public sector hacks need to treat taxpayer money as their own personal money, and not a blank check. Ladouceur is absolutely correct. If the city council does not serve as gatekeeper, who will?

Thank god Councilman Solomon is looking out for the taxpayers. There is an indifference on the part of city workers regarding taxpayers dollars.

Fast Eddie Ladoceur will be hearing from his voters when they receive their ridiculous bills for sewers in Ward 5. In his case he chasing nickels while his voters are facing financial ruin because of the over the top sewer cost Ladoceur is responsible for.

I get that items receiving only one bid is problematic and can lead to taxpayers overpaying. No problem with Solomon pointing that out. But that's a larger more important issue. However, this water is surely among the most trivial of those concerns. The city pays 33 cents a bottle and is selling it for 51 cents all while providing the seniors with a excellent value. This city sends solicitations for purchases in the tens to hundreds of thousands dollar range. Why are these people not scrutining those bids instead of getting all worked up about water that the city makes a profit off. The larger issue is an important one but jeesh, get your priorities straight.

I get that items receiving only one bid is problematic and can lead to taxpayers overpaying. No problem with Solomon pointing that out. But that's a larger more important issue. However, this water is surely among the most trivial of those concerns. The city pays 33 cents a bottle and is selling it for 51 cents all while providing the seniors with a excellent value. This city sends solicitations for purchases in the tens to hundreds of thousands dollar range. Why are these people not scrutining those bids instead of getting all worked up about water that the city makes a profit off. The larger issue is an important one but jeesh, get your priorities straight.

Is the city council still getting their health care paid for? Eliminating that would save a lot.

Leave it to Solomon to complain about 2 cents being wasted on bottled water. How many hundreds of thousands has the city paid in tax dollars for all his medical procedures he's had done on the city dime? Maybe he should go to sam's club and shop for some private health insurance.

wow the part time COUNCIL PERSON had the time to talk and look for some saveinging could this be .She said part time on the floor. Hope she runs for somebody other set at the state house . ON THE HOUSE SIDE BECAUSE SHE WILL HAVE SOMEBODY WITH 100k to blow on the race. HOW THAT PART TIME COUNCIL PERSON IN WARD 3 . LOTS MORE TO COME WATCH FOR THE MAILER REAL SOON IN YOUR WARD> WERE YOUR DOG IN WARD 5 DID you get the chicken bill in for him. O that right He wanted to put me in a war WHAT A JOKE

You must be logged in to post a comment. Click here to log in.
Welcome to RIjobs.com
Copyright © 2014, Beacon Communications. Powered by: Creative Circle Advertising Solutions, Inc.