Selectmen Refuse to Allow Public Input on Possible Cost of Living Adjustment Raises

The selectmen will be discussing a cost of living adjustment (COLA) raise at their meeting on Monday, August 22, although you would not know that by looking at the meeting’s agenda, which has no mention of a COLA. When I asked Karen Koch, the selectmen’s secretary why there was no mention of the COLA, she replied in an email that the COLA discussion was covered in the agenda by “Continued Business.”

The selectmen discussed a proposed COLA at their work session last Monday. At the time they tabled it saying they needed more information. Selectman Lloyd Wood closed the discussion by saying, “We invite the public to contact us if they have a question.”

I requested to be on the agenda for the meeting on Monday the 22nd, so that I could share my concerns about a COLA with the selectmen, but Koch told me in an email, “Selectmen will not entertain outside input during the meeting before they vote.” I pointed out that it seemed to me that Selectman Wood had invited public input. Koch replied, “I have asked again and the answer remained the same.”

Employee compensation in the budget amounts to $1.6 million, accord to Selectman Wood. That breaks down to $1.1 million for wages and $562,000 for benefits. A (hypothetical) 2% across the board increase to wages would represent a $22,216 increase in the budget for the wages line item. Wood was discussing a hypothetical merit raise increase for every single employee. Selectman Carolyn Sundquist said that there was “no doubt” in her mind that every town employee who receives a satisfactory performance review would receive a step increase on the salary schedule. Every step is a 2% increase.

Selectman Bill Marcussen stated that anecdotally he has observed that the cost of oil is down. Wood stated that he knew that inflation is less than 1%.

Despite this, the selectmen will apparently be voting on giving town employees automatic raises in the form of a COLA, separate from any merit raises, which themselves are virtually automatic, according to Sundquist.

According to the most recent information available from the Economic & Labor Market Information Bureau, NH Employment Security, the per capita (average per person) income in Tuftonboro is $33,143.

Yet the average income of a town of Tuftonboro employee, including benefits, is $52,131. Update: Removing the part-time public employees reveals the average full-time average compensation of a Tuftonboro employee to be $71,446

Keep in mind that the $33,143 figure includes the town employees who live in town. If the public employees were excluded, it’s likely that the per capita income for private sector workers in Tuftonboro would be less than $33,143, making the disparity between public and private even greater.

As a reminder, the Wages line item in the town’s budget was increased this year by 15% at Town Meeting. At the time, I suggested that if we thought that public employees deserved (collectively) a 15% increase that we should give it to them, but that we should find savings somewhere else in the budget. The budget was raised by 9% over what had been spent in the previous year.

Minutes from Selectmen’s August 1, 2016, Meeting

The draft minutes for the Selectmen’s August 1 meeting have been posted to the Tuftonboro town web site by Administrative Secretary Karen Koch. Here is the portion of the minutes that deals with the Lang’s Pong Road construction contract:

The Selectmen revisited the Lang Pond Road award of bid and invited Jack Parsons to participate in the conversation. Selectman Marcussen shared his opinion that his vendor choice is still the same. He reaffirmed that Integrity Earthworks is inexperienced in this area.

Selectman Wood shared his formerly mentioned research regarding RSA 447:16. His opinion is to let Integrity Earthworks add a bond if it is legal and acceptable or to reject all bids and redo the process.

Chairman Sundquist’s opinion stayed the same. She doesn’t feel that the Selectmen’s reasons are strong enough to not move forward with Integrity Earthworks if they present a performance bond.

Jack Parsons confirmed that no official prequalification process was done. Although, none of the applicants were on the State approved contractor list. His recommendation is based on experience. He researched Integrity Earthworks past projects but did not find any solid evidence of past experience applicable to this project.

There was some discussion about the bond requirements, bond amounts, and the low bidder’s confirmation that they would post a bond if required. Jack Parsons expressed concern that he doesn’t want to have to use the bond. Selectman Marcussen explained further that a bond protects the Town in the event of non-performance but it doesn’t get the job done in a timely manner. Selectman Wood added to this explanation stating that a bond is an insurance policy.

Chairman Sundquist doesn’t feel that the chance of non- performance is reason enough to not accept the lowest bidder. Selectman Marcussen feels the opposite as the lowest bidder doesn’t have any demonstrative experience in this area. Selectman Wood shared that he also doesn’t believe that the reason to reject Integrity Earthworks is enough. He is most comfortable rejecting all bids, and redoing the process. It was then discussed amongst the group that the only issue with redoing the process is that all bidders know the other offers at this point.

Selectman Wood made a motion to stand with the original motion of the original bid, seconded by Selectman Marcussen. Vote passed 3-0. Chairman Sundquist voted yes with hesitation. It was asked that Karen Koch relay this decision to Integrity Earthworks.

And during public comment:

During public input, Betsy Frago asked about Norway Plains’ responsibility in regards to the review of the Lang Pond Road bids as well as questioned if Norway Plains reviewed the Invitation to Bid packet. Chairman Sundquist confirmed that Norway Plains did make mention that a performance bond was not included on Integrity Earthworks’ bid but also didn’t know if it was required or not. The Selectmen didn’t know if Norway Plains was provided the Invitation to Bid packet for review. Chairman Sundquist shared that none of the people involved in creating the Invitation to Bid packet were aware that a bond was required until after the submissions were received. Ms. Frago also questioned why Selectman Marcussen was not available to attend the meeting Friday with Integrity Earthworks. Chairman Sundquist explained that Selectman Marcussen was originally available to attend but circumstances arose that prevented him from staying. Although Integrity Earthworks has not indicated that they would sue the Town, she asked if NHMA was asked if the Town can be sued for not taking the lowest bid. Chairman Sundquist responded that they did not inquire about this and this is a concern of hers as well. Ms. Frago also asked about the cost difference between the lowest bid and the second lowest bid. The Selectmen explained that it is approximately a $30,000 difference.

 

Minutes from Selectmen’s Meeting of Friday, July 29, 2016

The draft minutes from Friday’s meeting between Selectmen Carolyn Sundquist and Lloyd Wood and representatives of Integrity Earthworks has been posted on the town’s web site by Administrative Secretary Karen Koch:

Chairman Sundquist and Selectman Wood met with Steve Pacsay, owner of Integrity Earthworks and their estimator, Doug Phillips. (Selectman Marcussen was unable to attend this portion of the meeting.) Mr. Pacsay asked to meet with the Selectmen to express his concerns of their recent decision on the award of the Lang Pond Road project and to get a further understanding for the basis of Integrity Earthworks’ bid being rejected. He read aloud his email that he sent to the Selectmen. The verbiage in the bid requirements did not require a bid/performance bond for the project, which his company is willing to provide if required. He understands that when his company asked if they could add the cost of the bond to their bid they were denied based on the question of whether it was legal or not to do so. He expanded upon his previous management/supervisory experience in the heavy construction industry with degrees of difficulty, deadlines, and dollar values far in excess of the Lang Pond Road project. He views this project as a critical stepping stone in the growth and presence of his company and stated that this was considered part of the strategy when placing a value on this project. He expressed his confusion on the outcome of the decision made and is contemplating to what degree his company wants to pursue this matter. He asked that the Town research the legality of the decision that was made prior to final contract award. Integrity Earthworks feels strongly that the fair thing to do would be to reject all bids, revise the bid requirements and restart the bid process.

Chairman Sundquist expressed her agreement with Mr. Pacsay and explained that this is why she voted against awarding the bid to LA Drew. She proceeded to read aloud Selectman Marcussen’s statement. His primary reason for not supporting award of the contract to the lowest bidder is that he doesn’t believe that the low bid is “responsible.” Doug Phillips responded by stating that no pre-qualifications were asked for as part of the process therefore all bidders had to assume that they were qualified. Mr. Phillips went on to explain that 25% of their business is in much larger commercial projects and their bid form references such. They feel that they are very qualified for this project. Mr. Phillips commented that Selectman Wood stated that the RSA was clear on the requirements of a performance bond over $35,000 but didn’t know of a solution without redoing the paperwork. Mr. Phillips feels that the process should be redone and a pre-qualification process done for each bidder. Mr. Pacsay explained that he is aware of the perceived capacity of his business within the community, so when he knew that his company had the low bid he reached out to Jack Parsons twice (as well as Norway Plains) and asked to meet with him and the Selectmen, if necessary, and it was denied both times, stating that there was no need to do so. Mr. Pacsay expanded on his past experiences of large responsibility pertinent to this type of project.

Selectman Wood thanked them for stepping forward and complimented Mr. Phillips in terms of acting as their agent. He feels it is important to stay fair and open. He spoke of RSA 447:16 and the notes of the decisions that were made in terms of this RSA, particularly #4 Bond-Generally, given that a general contractor was required to obtain a bond under RSA 447:16, which bond stated that if there are conflicts between the terms of the understanding and the statute, the statute should be resolved in favor of the statute and #7 Bond Provisions, this section did not require the terms of the bond required to be read into a contract with the Town. His reiterated his duty is to follow the letter and spirit of the law. He said that the Town cannot, after putting one set of specifications out to bid, decide to accept a bid and then calculate it differently. Although he confirmed that they can be rejected legally. He also read aloud the minutes of the July 26, 2016 meeting where Mr. Phillips noted that they feel that their interpretation of the bid form should not slow the process of the project and they are happy to accept the Board’s decision without recourse or any question. Mr. Pacsay acknowledged this.

Chairman Sundquist read the motion that was made by Selectman Marcussen at the July 26th meeting bringing attention to the point that the motion made was not a result of the bond not being included.

Selectman Wood moved that the Selectmen reconsider their actions taken in terms of awarding the Lang Pond Road project, seconded by Chairman Sundquist. Vote passed 2-0. The Selectmen will reconsider their decision at their Monday morning meeting.

Mr. Pacsay stated that he is not asking that his company gets the job. He is just asking that the Town redoes the bid process and makes the bid process clear.

(Emphasis added.)

Acknowledging Error, Selectmen Vote to Reconsider Lang’s Pond Road Contract

“We erred,” said selectman Carolyn Sundquist in a meeting today with Integrity Earthworks. “We don’t know all the RSAs [state laws].”

Steve Pacsay, president of Integrity Earthworks of Wolfeboro, had requested today’s meeting after the selectmen rewarded the Lang’s Pong Road contract to LA Drew in an emergency meeting on Tuesday morning. The selectmen rejected Integrity Earthworks’ bid because it did not include a security bond. However, the bid instructions stated a bond was not required.

Sundquist stated today that the selectmen didn’t know that New Hampshire state law required bonds on projects that are more than $35,000, until they saw an article about it in a municipal magazine last week.

Integrity Earthworks asked the selectmen to reject all the bids and solicit new bids. “I don’t want to sound like a sore loser,” said Steve Pacsay. “This not the first contract that we won’t get or will get.” His concern was that the bid process had not been fair. Integrity Earthworks, he said, would have included a bond if the bid instructions had required one.

Selectman Lloyd Wood made a motion to reconsider the decision on the contract. Selectman Sundquist seconded the motion, and then Sundquist and Wood both voted yea. Selectman Bill Marcussen was not present to vote. The selectmen will therefore reconsider the decision at their 9AM meeting this coming Monday.

Marcussen left before Integrity Earthworks came to meet with the selectmen. The full board of selectmen were present for a 10:30 meeting this morning with Meredith Savings Bank, which is taking over the Melvin Village branch location from Peoples’ United bank. The selectmen are looking to move town accounts from Peoples’ to Meredith Savings. When the meeting with Meredith Savings finished at about 11:20, Marcussen left.

Marcussen had been the most vocal opponent of awarding the contract to Integrity Earthworks. It’s unclear why he did not stay for the scheduled 11:30 meeting with Integrity Earthworks.

Selectmen Award Lang’s Pond Road Contract to LA Drew

After a bungled bid process, the selectmen awarded the Lang’s Pond Road contract to LA Drew this morning in an emergency meeting. At their meeting yesterday the selectmen awarded the contract to LA Drew even though Integrity Earthworks of Wolfeboro was the lowest bid. The selectmen stated the reason for awarding the contract to LA Drew’s higher bid was that Integrity Earthworks had not filled out the bid package correctly by not including a bond. However, an Integrity Earthworks representative who was present at the meeting pointed out that the bid instructions had clearly stated that the bond was not required, prompting the selectmen to reconsider their initial awarding of the contract, since the decision had been made based on incorrect information.

The selectmen hired an outside firm, Norway Plains, to review the bids to ensure the process was fair. At last night’s meeting the Integrity Earthworks representative stated he had called Jack Parsons, representing the town, as well as Norway Plains, to make sure that his company’s bid was complete and he was told that it was. One of the reasons the selectmen had expressed for going into recess last night was that they wanted to talk to Jack Parsons, but Parsons was not present at this morning’s reconvened meeting.

At this morning’s emergency meeting chairman of the selectmen Carolyn Sundquist said that she would be willing to award the contract to Integrity Earthworks if they put up a bond. Selectman Bill Marcussen stated his concern that Integrity Earthworks is primarily a high-end residential contractor and lacks the experience of constructing roads. He was concerned that Integrity Earthworks would not be able to complete the project before winter. Selectman Lloyd Wood stated his belief that it would be illegal under state law for the town to award the contract to Integrity Earthworks so long as they issued a bond because it would amount to changing the bid requirements at the last minute in order to favor one of the bidders. Wood stated that while he didn’t want to use the word “misleading,” the bid instructions had not been clear. Sundquist stated that instructions were “unfortunate.”

The Integrity Earthworks representative (the same one from last night) was at this morning’s meeting and offered that while 75% of his company’s portfolio is indeed high-end residential, they have a number of current and pending contracts for large-scale non-residential work including the Rochester City Hall Annex and the Army National Guard. These contracts, he pointed out, exceed the dollar value of the Lang’s Pong Road contract.

Selectman Marcussen made a motion to award the contract to LA Drew. It was seconded by Lloyd Wood. Chairman Sundquist called a vote. Marcussen and Wood voted yea. Sundquist voted nay.

After the vote, the Integrity Earthworks representative thanked the selectmen for the process and shook hands with all three of them. There was no representative from LA Drew at either last night or this morning’s meeting.

LA Drew’s winning bid was $140,772 and Integrity Earthworks’ lower bid was $112,906. The Integrity Earthworks bid would have been higher if it included a bond, but would still have offered a considerable savings to the taxpayer.

Confusion Over Awarding of Contract for Lang’s Pond Road

After having received four bids on July 11th, the selectmen voted today to award the contract for the reconstruction of Lang’s Pond Road to LA Drew, Inc., even though Integrity Earthworks, LLC., had submitted the lower bid. Chairman Sundquist stated that the reason was that Integrity had not included a bond in their bid, as required. Representatives of Integrity Earthworks were at the meeting and stated that the bid instructions had indicated that the bond was not required. They said they would have included a 3% bond otherwise, but had followed the bid instructions. They also stated that they had called Jack Parsons, who is the town’s code officer and was overseeing the bid process, to ask if Integrity’s bid was complete and that he told them that it was.

LA Drew’s bid was $140,772 while Integrity Earthworks had bid $112,906. However, with a bond the bid would have been higher, though still lower than La Drew’s.

The selectmen then tried to check whether the bond had been optional, but didn’t have the document in front of them and decided to table the discussion. The Integrity Earthworks representatives then left. One of them returned a short while later with the bid instructions and the relevant part highlighted. The selectmen thanked him then returned to their other business.

At the end of the regular meeting they reopened discussion of the contract. Selectman Lloyd Wood read from an excerpt from a municipal magazine he had excerpted, which indicated that the state requires bonds on contract bids of more than $35,000. However, the bid instructions for Lang’s Pond Road did clearly state that the bond was “not required.”

The selectmen were unsure what to do, and not wanting to make a decision without more information, decided to postpone another vote until tomorrow morning at 9AM. They would like Jack Parsons to be present.

The selectmen said that they were not adjourning their meeting, but instead went into recess. They are not giving a 24-hour notice of tomorrow morning’s meeting, they said, because it is not a new meeting. Selectmen Wood stated he believed that was legal and chairman Sundquist said she hoped it was.

According to the New Hampshire attorney general’s Memorandum on New Hampshire’s Right-to-Know law, RSA Chapter 91-A:

Additional notice may not be necessary for continuation of public meetings. See Town of Nottingham v. Harvey, 120 N.H. 889, 894–95 (1980) (recess of a public zoning meeting until a later date without notice of the second date did not violate Right-to-Know law). When practical, posting notice of meetings that are to be reconvened supports the spirit and objectives of the Right-to- Know law.

The selectmen did post a notice to the town’s official web site this evening:

On Tuesday, July 26, 2016 at 9:00 a.m., the Board of Selectmen will reconvene to make a final vendor decision for the Lang Pond Road project. The meeting will be held at the Town Office.

*THis post was updated because I misidentified Integrity Earthworks, LLC. I called them Integrity Contractors, Inc., at first. My apologies.

Shagoury: Possible Overdose Death on Sandy Island

Police Chief Andrew Shagoury reported to the selectmen that a recent death on Sandy Island could be the result of a drug overdose and that the police department is waiting on a toxicology report. If it is an overdose death, the toxicology report will indicate if the drugs were illicit. Chief Shagoury said that the department received an emergency call that turned into an unattended death. The police department will issue a press release when more information is available.

Thompson Reports New Ambulance in Service

Fire Chief Adam Thompson reported to the board of selectmen that the new ambulance, which is leased after being approved at Town Meeting this year, has entered service. Thompson confirmed that the new ambulance will go out on every single call even if Stewart’s Ambulance Service is on scene. Tuftonboro has a contract with Stewart’s to provide emergency coverage.

The new ambulance will be on scene as backup but will not transport patients unless a Stewart’s ambulance is unable to transport. The fire department is filling out paperwork in order to be able to charge Medicare for transportation costs (for patients with Medicare).