City Council says no to $1 million road repair

Public, council cite sole-sourced contract as main concern

City Council says no to $1 million road repairBy BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

The Ridgecrest City Council voted against entering into a street maintenance contract during its Sept. 19 meeting. The $1.1 million contract would have involved laying down a fiber micropaving seal on several sections of road as preventative maintenance.

While members of council and the public acknowledged a serious need for roadwork, the primary concern was that the contract was sole sourced with Tehachapi paving company Environmental Concepts and never went out to bid.

“It seems like we’re overpaying by quite a lot for this project,” said Councilmember Lindsey Stephens. “My priority is to make sure we’re maximizing the dollars. We’re sole sourcing it and it doesn’t seem like it needs to be sole sourced. $1 million is a lot of money.”

When asked why the project was never put out to bid, Public Works Director Bard Lower said that Environmental Concepts was the only company to his knowledge that used a patented state-of-the-art fiber seal process which evenly distributes the fiber into a smooth, even seal. He added that this company had done the majority of the city’s paving work for the last three years with no issues.

Normally, the city is required by law to put projects out to bid and accept the “lowest responsible and responsive” bidder. City Attorney Keith Lemieux clarified that as the contract was for an “unusual product only available from one vendor,” sole sourcing was appropriate for this situation.

Stephens added that the city already has some $400,000 set aside for a slurry and micropaving seal machine so that the city can start performing its own street maintenance for a fraction of the cost. The machine in question also has the option to add a “fiber box” to perform fiber seal paving.

Stephens said according to her research, the city would only be paying 15-18 cents per square foot of paving materials while the proposed contract would cost more than $1 per square foot.

“The fiber feeder that we’re talking about here ends up in most cases leaving clumps of fibers and doesn’t distribute uniformly,” Lower said, arguing that Environmental Concepts process was unique and would yield the best results.

“I’m just not convinced that this is the only company that can provide this kind of service,” said Stephens. She added that in her conversations with other International Slurry Surfacing Association contractors, she was told the city’s prospective machine can perform the same task and there’s no sense in overpaying for the process.

Mayor Pro Tem Mike Mower, the sole councilmember who voted for approval of the contract, mentioned that by tabling the item, the city would miss its chance to do any maintenance this fall season.

Councilmember Wallace Martin agreed with Stephens that the project should go out to bid.

“When you start talking $1 million, we need to be getting multiple bids. What due diligence did we do to solicit more than one person? What can we do to encourage multiple bids on this?

“If you have a company that’s doing really nice work than that’s terrific and I understand, but I just think we’re a small town with a small budget. We’ve got to make a big dent in these great big pieces of the pie chart. That’s part of getting a machine and getting our people to do more and be more efficient.”

He added that the contractor’s rates have increased by more than 20 percent compared to the city’s last contract. Lower attributed this increase to the 22.9-percent gas tax increase.

“I just smell a need for getting more bids,” said Martin.

He added that he was frustrated regarding the number of times the council is “backed into a corner” and told it has one meeting to vote on something before missing a deadline.

“It seems like every time we make a decision we’ve got to do it right now,” said Martin. “Maybe the sky isn’t falling every time. So maybe we don’t need to do it right this second.

Members of the public weighed in during public comment, heavily in favor of avoiding a sole-sourced contract.

“You need to give us the best value for our money. That’s your job,” said Mike Neel. “If you’re looking at possibilities to do the same thing for less, just think about it. You could do three times as many street surfaces for the same cost.”

Stan Rajtora echoed concerns that sole sourcing “just doesn’t seem right.”

“One of the key downfalls of sole sourcing is once a company knows you’re going to go with them anyway, they’re not offering their best deal,” said Reese Hogg III. “That money belongs to Ridgecrest as a whole. I think we have to be a little more responsible at the way we seek bids.”

Mower added that once the city has its own crew operating a machine, there will be a learning curve before being able to perform quality work.

“I guarantee the first few streets they do are not going to be the quality of a professional asphalt company.”

Lower said one benefit to the Environmental Concepts contract was that the company would allow the city crew to observe and shadow the project.

“I wouldn’t know slurry if it hit me in the face,” said Mayor Peggy Breeden during council comments. “I don’t even know what’s different about fiber … but I do know business. I don’t like sole sourcing. I’d never do it in my business for the most part.”

Mower made a motion that the contract be approved, seconded by Breeden. The result was a “yes” vote from Mower, “no”s from Breeden, Martin and Stephens with Vice Mayor Eddie Thomas abstaining. But Thomas said he meant to vote no and had pressed the wrong button.

In another item, the city approved $179,501.92 in Tax Allocation Bond funds for improvements of the Ridgecrest Senior Center parking lot including new driveway approaches, wider ADA-compliant driveways, hand rails and restoring the pavement markings and striping.

The bid was awarded to Griffith Company with other bids ranging from $185,000 to more than $350,000. The project is expected to happen over 25 working days (roughly five weeks).

The county and city are making arrangements for an alternate gathering place to the senior center during construction. See future editions of the News Review for more information.

Story First Published: 2018-09-21