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Local engineers preferred on 1 percent projects

When possible, local engineers preferred on 1 percent projects

Aug 28, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

Conditions on state and federal grants would prevent the county from prioritizing Fremont County consultants for projects using those sources of funds.

Fremont County plans to solicit local engineers to design many of the projects funded by the 1 percent optional sales tax following an Aug. 20 Commission decision.

"Citizens are putting the money up. I'd like to keep the money here and spread the projects around as best we can," commission chairman Doug Thompson said. "I'd kind of like to keep that money in the county."

The policy would only apply to road and bridge work fully funded by the 1 percent tax. Conditions on state and federal grants would prevent the county from prioritizing Fremont County consultants for projects using those sources of funds.

The work for each project would entail designing it, preparing bid documents, and overseeing construction.

Fremont County transportation superintendent Dave Pendleton plans to make sure all engineering firms in the county are notified of the opportunity by running newspaper advertisements, he said.

Commissioners only approved the in-county preference program for design work starting by the end of the fiscal year June 30.

"If it works out we'll probably continue that. If it doesn't, or it looks like it's probably not working out,

we'll probably have to look at something different," Thompson said.

Five this fiscal year

A previously released budget anticipates five projects involving 1 percent tax money slated for construction this fiscal year. Seven more projects are to begin their design phase at a total expected cost of $2.1 million.

Under the new policy, Fremont County would advertise the list of projects it is planning construct with 1 percent tax money and invite local engineering firms to submit statements of qualifications, letters of interest and a description of their availability. Only engineering companies that had a presence in Fremont County on Aug. 20, the day the policy was enacted, would qualify.

The transportation department would review the documents and distribute the projects based on the designers' areas of expertise and availabilities, Pendleton said.

Awarding contracts for design work would not go through a bid process under the new policy, but projects that involve state or

federal money would.

Commissioners supported the policy but some had questions.

"How do we get a competitive price out of this process?" Commissioner Stephanie Kessler asked.

Each engineering firm has a standard hourly rate, Pendleton said. He indicated the county could use those figures to compare costs between firms and in that way create competition.

Thompson supported the policy but said the uncompetitive process could disadvantage the county in some respects.

"The disadvantage is we might not be able to take advantage of some hungry designer who would do a good job for less," he said.

Thompson also said the county could negotiate with a firm over the cost of designing a project.

Engineers weigh in

Nine representatives of local engineering firms attended the meeting, and some spoke in support of the proposed statements-of-qualifications process.

"Do you want the lowest bid engineer driving all the costs that go into a road project or even a minor road project?" James Gores of James Gores & Associates said. "There are some better decisions to be made if the people making them are allowed the time and economic freedom to make them."

A more competitive process could cost the county money, Pendleton said. Asking firms to prepare a proposal for each project would take more work from the consultants that the county would have to pay for in the end.

"That could drag out for quite some time and would be very expensive for the consultants to assemble, and they have to recoup that somehow," he said.

Thompson hoped the firms would compete by describing their talents and abilities and how they fit with the list of projects in their statements of qualifications.

Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the in-county preference for design work on 1 percent projects.

Construction, too

The county board supported giving a preference to Fremont County construction firms bidding on contracts to build projects funded by the 1 percent optional sales tax. The commission did not reach a decision about the subject, however.

Discussions so far centered on giving a small percent preference to in-county contractors.

If the county settled on a 5 percent preference, for instance, it would add 5 percent to bids from out-of-county construction companies. When officials compared proposals, they would take a bid from an in-county firm as long as it was less than 105 percent of the quote from a non-local company.

Such a policy could only apply to projects fully funded with county money. Wyoming's Department of Transportation requires projects using its funds to give an in-state preference. If federal dollars are involved, the county will not be able to favor firms any firms.

Commissioners Keja Whiteman and Travis Becker supported the idea of a preference but wanted time to think about it.

Thompson agreed.

"If we gave like a 5 percent in county preference it doesn't prevent someone coming in from outside and beating that preference," he said. "I'd like our local contractors to get a little preference but not have a lock on the work."

The commission will take up the issue at a later meeting.

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