2017-01-26 / Letters

Watchdog group encourages city to be more transparent

To the editor:

As taxpayers, we are very disturbed with the unresponsiveness to public inquiry displayed by city administration in Saco. Simple questions never seem to get answered despite assurances to provide some. Saco city government is not transparent, not responsive to either the public or often to its own elected officials.

Adherence by the administration and council to follow the policies and procedure of the city’s charter, code, purchasing policy and lastly, Maine state statutes, are required but are lacking.

Many months ago, a resident asked if sealed bids for the transfer station project were invited. Our research indicates no bids for a $400,000-plus project (first phase) were invited nor awarded to the lowest responsible and responsive bidder.

The city’s purchasing policy for a large purchase of goods and services, in excess of $8,000, requires competitive bids be sought and published. Exceptions may be made for emergencies and single source items or services. The city violated its own purchasing policy by not soliciting competitive bids.

Here is what is known. During 2015, the city invited bids for Equipment Rental and Construction Services; as well as, materials only. Five contracts were executed by the city administration for each of the listed services. None of these bids were related to the transfer station project specifically.

One might ask, “Who was the lowest bidder?” The answer is all and none. Public works can select from these contracts to undertake projects for the city without going to bid. Worth noting is components of these 10 accepted contracts were utilized to work around the purchasing policy.

The transfer station relocation project used a cherry picking process. Components from various contractor bids were chosen by staff to undertake portions of the work. The public works department supplemented the work in progress. No single party was responsible for this single project.

As to the financing for this project, the council approved $175,000 and $89,245 respectively totaling $264,245 in fiscal year 2017 capital improvement project funds budget. Well over a year ago, we were told that $144,000 had been approved and included in earlier budgets. This was just not so.

Finally, at a Jan. 9 council workshop the administration acknowledged funds left over from other completed capital improvement projects were shifted to cover the cost of the transfer station work. The total shifted is now $155,755, bringing the project funds to $420,000, but full total was not approved. The charter states that funds left over after three years are to be returned to the general fund.

Again, no city staff sought approval from the council or provided them knowledge of the project. The project set aside is $420,000 and climbing. Worth noting is the transfer station is not totally completed. As discovered, there is a second phase with future cost which is still unknown.

According to the purchasing policy of the city, no purchase of services, supplies, materials and equipment shall be made unless the council has appropriated the funds. Clearly, funds were and will be spent for the transfer station which were not designated per policy.

Who is overseeing the project to log machine hours, cubic yards of stone, gravel and asphalt used? What were the costs for city employee hours and the related employee benefit costs and equipment used yet not recognized?

The reported amount spent to date is $330,000 according to the city administrator. What’s missing are the items listed in the prior paragraph. We were told by the administration that the city saved the taxpayers money.

How can we measure the savings? Equally important is why was a dollar figure not provided for the project cost? And, why did this project not go out to bid? Where is the accountability? Such practices leave the door open to favoritism, abuse, lack of control and accountability.

Taxpayers need to be assured that our tax dollars are managed in the most cost effective and efficient manner consistent with public policies.

John Harkins, chairman Saco Citizens for Sensible Government

Return to top