Do you hire a professional firm because it’s a local one with a less expensive proposal even if a City Hall review team has concluded another firm from out of state has a better proposal and brings more horses to the task?
That was the central question this week that provoked a spirited debate among City Council members, who, in a rare 5-4 vote, awarded the contract to ProSource Technologies Inc., Minneapolis, Minn.
The city will pay ProSource an estimated $516,400 over six months for the firm to provide data required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency on the estimated 1,300 flood-damaged homes and other flood-damaged properties that the city hopes to buy out.
The contractor will obtain right of entry to properties, verify ownership, document the property’s legal description, check an owner’s insurance coverage at the time of the flood and notify lien holders of the intent to demolish a property.
ProSource’s proposal charges the city $380 per property while a bid by AllTrans Inc. of Cedar Rapids would have charged $350 per property for the work.
The City Hall’s review team concluded that ProSource and a third contractor, JCG Land Services of Cedar Rapids, were the top two of four proposals based on of the four contractors’ overall proposals, experience, method of approach to the project and cost.
Council members Tom Podzimek, Monica Vernon, Jerry McGrane and Pat Shey voted to award the contract to AllTrans Inc., while Mayor Kay Halloran and council members Brian Fagan, Kris Gulick, Justin Shields and Chuck Wieneke supported the city staff recommendation to award the contract to ProSource.
Podzimek argued that the council has spent some time over many months discussing what steps it might take to purchase more products and services from local companies. It didn’t make any sense to talk about buying locally if the city wasn’t, too, going to look at hiring locally as well, he said.
Podzimek said this contract related to property acquisitions was a chance to use a local employer with local employees and a chance to give a young, local firm the opportunity to build skills that the firm then could use to bid on other jobs. The city would be using its disaster recovery, he said, to help beef up the resume of a local firm for other disaster recovery projects.
The inference was that the Cedar Rapids firm then could become the out-of-state consultant – the council here as gotten some criticism for hiring out-of-state consultants – that other cities in other states might hire.
On the other side of the debate, council member Shields used the example of a boiler and said he didn’t want anyone building a boiler under the theory that, let’s give this person the job, “You got to learn sometime.” Cedar Rapids needed to hire “the very best,” he said.
Disagreeing with Shields, council member Vernon – she and Shields have been a one-two punch in recent weeks in trying, unsuccessfully, to arrange to have a new flood-recovery chief sidestep City Manager Jim Prosser – said the contract to assess properties for buyouts was a “great opportunity” to buy local and award the contract to the low-cost bidder. She said the contract involved “basic things” for which previous like experience might not be as important as other work the city needs to be completed.
Both Rita Rasmussen, the city’s senior real estate officer, and Prosser emphasized that the local firm did not provide a “detailed scope” of plans of how they would deliver the service.
Rasmussen told the council that the city’s proposal review team had concerns about whether AllTrans had the capacity to do the work in a timely manner. AllTrans did not address “capacity issues,” she said.
Council member Kris Gulick asked, specifically, about “adequate staffing,” and he wondered how many staff members AllTrans would bring to the job and how many ProSource would. Rasmussen said AllTrans listed four employees while ProSource said it would bring many more than that to the job.
The 5-4 council vote backed a resolution awarding the contract to the Minneapolis firm ProSource because it had submitted the “most responsive and responsible” proposal.
In hiring professional firms, cost is only one of several variables that jurisdictions look at in a competition for a city contract.
In matters involving price bids — street contracts, for instance — jurisdictions must pick the lowest responsible bidder.