Two City Commissioners Question Spending

August 8, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — A pair of city commissioners questioned recently whether the city was spending money needlessly on one project and if it was spending too much on another.

Second Ward Commissioner Rosalynn Bliss wanted to know why the city’s engineering consultant — Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber — was $502,000 off on its cost estimate for the installation of a waterproof coating system on basins at the Lake Michigan Filtration Plant. FTCH estimated the project would cost $874,631, while the work was awarded to RAM Construction Services of Michigan Inc. for $372,000.

“When they are off this much, we still have to pay them,” said 1st Ward Commissioner Walt Gutowski of FTCH.

City Engineer Marc DeClercq told Bliss and Gutowski that FTCH is a “great firm” but normally doesn’t do the concrete restoration needed for the project, so the company isn’t all that familiar with that type of work. He also said FTCH overestimated the complexity of the work involved and decided to err on the fiscally conservative side.

DeClercq said it might be a good idea to find a concrete specialist to serve as a subcontractor and make estimates on similar projects.

“It makes no sense to break that contract with Fishbeck,” said DeClercq.

But Bliss had another idea.

“Why do we need an engineer’s estimate? Why can’t we just put out a bid?” she asked of what she considered to be a needless expense.

Deputy City Manager Eric DeLong answered by saying that FTCH has the best “big-picture view” of what needs to be done at the filtration plant.

“They’ve saved us money in other areas,” he said. “We still have to use their designs.”

The city entered into its agreement with FTCH for work at the filtration plant in 2000, renewed that contract for three years in 2005, and for three more years a few weeks ago.

Five firms placed bids for the filtration plant project. All were under the consultant’s estimate. Those bids ranged from $372,000 to $462,548.

The filtration plant work has a total estimated cost of $449,000. That includes: the RAM bid; $53,746 as a 12 percent contingency; $22,297 for administration; $2,000 for tests; and $43,957 for services that FTCH performed for the project.

As for the other project, Gutowski felt the city was overpaying Pitsch Cos. $19,800 to demolish two fire-damaged houses and one neglected home. Gutowski said he had Pitsch raze homes outside of the city in the past and the company charged him roughly half of what the firm is charging the city today.

DeClercq said Pitsch was the only bidder for the work and was awarded the contract.     

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