Council questions bidding process for Esmond Bridge repairs

Council questions bidding process for Esmond Bridge repairs

SMITHFIELD – Town Council members on Tuesday expressed discomfort at how a company was selected to complete structural design plans for renovation or reconstruction of the Esmond Mill Drive Bridge.

A recommendation to contract out design services for the bridge was made without looking at the prices for other bids, according to Town Engineer Kevin Cleary, who said he used a rating system based on skills, design and other factors when deciding which firm to hire.

Cleary said he, the acting director of the Department of Public Works and the town planner went over requests for qualifications for design firms, and recommended Pare Corporation for $124,830.

“They scored the highest in terms of their qualifications,” he said.

Cleary said the fee was “on the mark” for where he anticipated it to be, around 10 percent of the total town project costs, which he expects to be roughly $1.3 million.

“We didn’t look at fee proposal as far as scoring matrix; it was all qualification selection-based procedure,” Cleary said.

He said he referenced the Brooks Act when making his decision. Established in 1972, the Brooks Act allows bids to be chosen based on qualifications and experience rather than cost.

“When you do that, you get into fairness in how the contractor has presented their qualification statement, how they’ve selected their method approach, and how they identify the tasks they need to do to get this project done,” Cleary said.

In all, six bids were received. Town Manager Randy Rossi suggested speaking with the solicitor to see if officials could look at the runner-up’s costs as well.

When Councilor T. Michael Lawton asked if a request for qualifications process was used for legal reasons, Rossi said it is a common practice for design procurements and other proposals in Smithfield and other towns.

According to the RFQ, the bridge has received only minor maintenance since its construction in the 1930s and was deemed in critical condition by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation in June of 2016.

Stretching 30 feet over the Woonasquatucket River, the bridge provides access to the Smithfield Wastewater Treatment Facility, 20 Esmond Mill Drive, and Esmond Mill.

The town is looking to renovate or replace the existing structure while maintaining service to both facilities.

Later in the evening Tuesday, during the public comment portion of the meeting, members of the community approached the council to talk about an informational pamphlet sent out with tax bills.

The pamphlet addressed the financial impact of the potential $45 million school bond and the $4.5 million fire department bond. Resident and former Town Solicitor Anthony Gallone said the pamphlet is misleading, and does not portray the town’s bond indebtedness responsibly.

“You need to talk about the consequences when you reach the maximum level of bond indebtedness,” Gallone said.

According to the pamphlet, the town’s bond capacity is at $82,625,135 with $21,225,000 in outstanding bond debt. The two proposed bonds would be taken from the remaining balance, leaving $11,927,135 bond capacity.

“I realize you’ve been trying to be as educational as possible,” said Gallone. “I feel it is inadequate.”

Council Vice President Alberto LaGreca said people need to know exactly what the costs are from a taxpayer perspective.

“I think transparency is the only way, if this bond has any shot at passing,” he said. “It has to be transparent. People have to understand exactly what the costs are,” LaGreca said.

In other business:

• The council approved the tax stabilization agreement between Rubius Therapeutics and Smithfield after a brief public hearing. As previously reported, the agreement will bring in more than $46 million in taxes over 24 years.

• After 22 years of service on the Smithfield Zoning Board of Review, Antonio Fonseca was given a certificate of recognition for his dedication to the town. Many members of Fonseca’s family and his friends came to the meeting to applaud him.

• The council approved licensing for the Community Food Truck and Concert Night at Deerfield Park on Aug. 21 from 5 to 8 p.m. Rossi said 12 to 14 food vendors will serve a variety of food, beer and wine accompanied by live entertainment from the Becky Chace Band.

• The council approved the tax stabilization agreement between Rubius Therapeutics and Smithfield after a brief public hearing. As previously reported, the agreement will bring in more than $46 million in taxes over 24 years.