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Marilla council at odds over maintenance bids

Questions about several bids led to some contentious moments at Thursday’s monthly meeting of the Marilla town board.

Leading off the evening of inquiry was a request to insulate the town community center and a low bid that was less than half of the next closest offer.

The $14,500 bid from Northern Spray Foam & Contracting, based in Carthage, near Watertown, was immediately called into question.

Seeking information about prevailing wages, Councilwoman Deborah Beats noted that Northern Spray & Foam uses minimum wages.

Supervisor Earl Gingerich Jr. said the engineering firm Nussbaumer & Clarke, which the town retains for consultation, reviewed the bids and reported that references and a background check for Northern Spray & Foam were in order.

“It’s a family business and … it depends on how you set up the members, like in a corporation,” Gingerich said. “This is why we hire Nussbaumer and Clarke to do all the research for us and make sure everything is legit and meets all the state requirements.”

Councilman Randy Reichert wanted assurances that the work meets specifications.

Highway Superintendent Ron Unverdorben said samples are taken during the course of the work to ensure the job is in compliance.

Competing bids to provide and maintain flowers and other plants around town properties were also scrutinized, with Beats questioning the actual costs of each bid and Reichert asking if they were compromised.

Garden Mart of Alden offered a bid of $2,089.74, with an undetermined extra cost for watering. Designs by Meredith submitted a bid of $2,261, which included weekly maintenance.

“We had the Garden Mart bid first,” Reichert said, “and then the Designs by Meredith bid after the first numbers, I thought, were (made) public.”

Noting there was dissatisfaction among council members with Garden Mart adding $2,913.75 for watering at the conclusion of its 2015 contract with the town, Reichert suggested capping the maintenance cost at $1,000.

Beats said the cap idea sounds good in theory.

“But what happens if they say, ‘We’ve reached our $1,000 cap, we’re done, we’re not coming back until we get more money,’ do we renegotiate it?” Beats asked.

Gingerich suggested a renegotiation would take place.

The council approved the Garden Mart bid, 3-2, with Beats and Councilwoman Julie Lathrop dissenting.

After the meeting, Beats said the Garden Mart supporters were deterred by “approximate” plant costs listed at each site on the bid from Designs by Meredith.

“I think the word ‘approximate’ was placed in there in error,” Beats said. “Meredith’s intent was it would not exceed. I think there was a misunderstanding.”

Beats said she believes the council majority feared that the individual plant costs would escalate.

Three additional bid-related resolutions were debated Thursday, and each vote was split at 3-2 with Gingerich, Reichert and Councilman Brian Nolan supporting the measures.

At issue were authorizations “to go to bid” for foundation repairs of headstones at the East Avenue Cemetery, lawn care at Marilla Cemetery and lawn care around town hall.

“These aren’t authorizations to spend, it’s authorizing to go to bid to see what the cost would be,” Gingerich said.

According to Gingerich, the request for bids is the result of a discussion with Unverdorben who reported problems keeping up with maintenance.

Beats and Lathrop said there wasn’t an opportunity to discuss the requests at Tuesday’s council work session.