City emergency repairs questioned Mayor expresses concern over no-bid $725,000 deal

September 04, 1998|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

For the second consecutive week, Baltimore's elected leaders questioned no-bid, emergency repair work for the city's Public Works Department, this time totaling $725,000.

The five-member Board of Estimates on Wednesday criticized the cost of sewer repairs made by R&F Construction Co. Ltd. of Baltimore. The company was low bidder on a 1996 contract to repair city sewers for $750,000.

Since then, R&F has been paid an additional $1.4 million -- including the $725,000 payment approved Wednesday -- for further repairs.

Urgent need for repairs

City contract standards require expenses of more than $25,000 to be competitively bid. Public Works Director George G. Balog, also a member of the Board of Estimates, said the additional work was urgently needed to mend broken sewer mains. Putting the contracts out for bid would have delayed the repairs, risking a city health hazard, Balog said.

But Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who also sits on the board, again expressed concern over the practice.

Last week, a mediator hired by the city recommended that the city sever its 1995 contract with Temp-Air Inc. of Baltimore. City auditors say the company overcharged the city more than $408,000 for heating and air conditioning repairs. The company denies the allegation, calling the bills justified.

Department of Public Works officials also have been interviewed by the FBI about emergency contracts to repair the Quarantine Road Sanitary Landfill. The repair bills were $200,000 more than originally approved by the Board of Estimates. Balog has denied wrongdoing by his department in the payments, blaming the extra costs of the work on the need to meet state environmental deadlines.

Schmoke said yesterday that the pattern in which the department gives low bidders additional, no-bid work must be addressed.

"The word out on the street is that the way you do business with the city is that you low-bid us, and then you come in with work orders," Schmoke said.

R&F officials could not be reached to comment yesterday afternoon.

Schmoke suggested that the city create a list of contractors who could share the emergency work. The Public Works Department spends about $160 million a year on contracts covering 10 city services, including roads, sewers and water.

The department's contracts tend to have 10.5 percent cost overruns for unexpected work, Balog said. Government agencies traditionally rebid contracts if the work will exceed the original bid by 15 percent to 20 percent. The payment to R&F represents a 200 percent increase over the original contract.

Balog said sewage backing up into houses and streets forced the emergency repairs. The city can only estimate the cost of the work before asking for bids; predictions can be wiped out by emergencies, he said.


Loan is forgiven

In other action, Baltimore taxpayers will forgive a $175,000 loan to a nonprofit clearinghouse for building materials. The five-member Board of Estimates approved canceling the debt of Loading Dock Inc. of 2523 Gwynns Falls Parkway.

City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III and his aides raised questions, saying the company did not try to repay the city's 10-year loan, issued in 1988.

City housing officials persuaded the five-member panel to forgive the debt, saying much of the material handled by the company has helped city soup kitchens, church groups and shelters. The Loading Dock plans to borrow more money to continue operating, housing officials said.

Pub Date: 9/04/98

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