County Votes 4-3 To Accept Exorbitant Bids

BERLIN – Despite bid prices for the county jail renovation and addition coming in at $3 million over estimate, four Worcester County Commissioners voted to accept the bids, derailing the efforts of other commissioners to re-bid some aspects of the project in search of lower prices.

The jail project’s budget for materials and work was estimated at $19.3 million before the bids were received, but came in at $22.4 million after the bids were opened and some of the prices were negotiated down.

Some of the change is attributable to costs added to the project after bids were sent out, said construction manager Nelson Young of SPN. Those additional costs include paying into the Snow Hill municipal wastewater plant for the additional sewer capacity needed for the expansion.

Six of the over-bid packages received only a single bid, which contributed to the higher price.

“My numbers haven’t inflated this much,” said Commissioner Bob Cowger, who is in the construction business. “The market is coming down.”

Cowger expressed frustration and said that he was most disturbed that the County Commissioners did not see the bids until this week, although the bids were opened in May.

If the staff had passed the bids on to the commissioners when they first opened, there would have been a reasonable amount of time to re-bid some of the packages, he said.

“I’ll never vote to approve those bids,” he said.

When County Chief Administrator Gerry Mason first learned from Young that many of the bids were over estimate, he asked SPN to meet with the jail staff and speak with the bidders about making adjustments to requirements.

“It was not held up,” said Mason.

At the time, Mason said he realized he could not go to the commissioners with those kinds of cost overruns. Through negotiation, the county was able to lower some bids by a total of $1.7 million, Mason said.

Cowger said he knows of at least five companies who could have bid on the site work, which received only a single bid, over $1 million more than the estimate. That amount was reduced by $200,000, with the final bid standing at $1.59 million, still $800,000 more than the original estimate for the work.

Commissioner Judy Boggs suggested re-bidding some of the packages.

“If we re-bid the site work, that will halt the process,” Young said.

Cowger said he did not want to hold the project back, but he felt that not re-bidding the process was fiscally irresponsible with the taxpayers’ money.

“Maybe we should re-bid the whole project,” Mason said.

“We will lose the bids we have so far,” Young said. The bids are good through mid-August.

Commission President Jim Purnell asked Young: “In your honest opinion, if this were to be rebid, do you feel that the price would come down any lower than it is now?”        

Young said, “I can’t guarantee you.”

Commissioner Virgil Shockley, who supported selected rebidding, said, “There are some prices we don’t want to lose.”

Other commissioners wanted to get on with the project.

“We don’t want to wait too long to do this,” Purnell said.

Boggs said she is concerned that the $8.4 million committed by the state might not be there after the state takes stock of its current money crisis. If the commissioners approved the bids, she said, they could be committing themselves to a project that might not receive the level of state funding expected, which would leave any shortfall up to Worcester County to make up.

“Normally the state funds about 50 percent of jail construction. These are not normal numbers,” Mason said.

Garry Mumford of the Worcester County Jail said that the state had guaranteed half of the original estimate and funding of any overage would have to be requested.

“That’s a worrisome figure to me,” Boggs said.

Cowger made a motion to accept all but the six single, overrun bids. The motion failed, with only Cowger, Shockley and Commissioner Linda Busick voting for it.    

Commissioner Bud Church motioned to accept all bids. The motion narrowly passed 4-3 with Cowger, Shockley and Busick voting against it.