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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 10, 2011

In split vote
Town sends back pressure washer that highway super bought to clean trucks

By Zach Simeone

RENSSELAERVILLE — The town’s highway department lost its first line of defense against vehicle corrosion when the board decided in a vote, split along party lines, to return a used piece of highway equipment to its vendor and repeat the bidding process. The town’s Democratic supervisor accused the highway superintendent, a conservative, of violating the town’s procurement law by not getting board approval, which the law does not require.

When it came time to pay last month’s bills at Tuesday’s meeting, Supervisor Marie Dermody declined to sign a voucher from Van Buren Enterprises for the purchase of a hot water pressure washer, which cost $3,930. Highway Superintendent Gary Zeh, she said, had violated the town’s procurement law in making the purchase.

Zeh had purchased the washer to increase the longevity of town vehicles, which often accumulate damaging amounts of salt while on the road. Before purchasing the new pressure washer, he had been bringing his own washer to the highway garage from home, he said, as the previous washer was broken.

“It’s in violation of the town procurement law,” said Dermody of the purchase. “An expenditure of this amount required a written request for proposals, which also then required town-board approval,” she said.

Zeh apologized to the board, adding that he had read the procurement policy and did not recall reading that he needed town-board approval.

Later, when Zeh, Councilwoman Marion Cooke, and Councilman Robert Bolte — All Conservatives — each asked if the town’s procurement law actually states that such a purchase requires town board approval, Dermody and Democratic Councilman Gary Chase stated that it is not written in the law, but it followed past practice.

The law, which is available for review at www.rensselaerville.com, states that “all purchases of a) supplies or equipment which will exceed $10,000 in the fiscal year, or b) public works contracts over $20,000 shall be [formally] bid”; the law also contains the following three rules pertaining to purchases that fall within particular prices ranges:

— The purchase of goods, equipment, or materials that is estimated to be less than $10,000 but greater than $3,000 shall require a written request for proposals or quotes, and written proposals or quotes from at least three vendors;

— The purchase of goods, equipment, or materials that is estimated to be less than $3,000 but greater than $1,000 shall require a written request for proposals or quotes, and written proposals or quotes from at least two vendors; and

— The purchase of goods, equipment or materials that is estimated to be less than $1,000 but greater than $250 shall be left to the discretion of the purchaser.

Dermody then pointed to a flaw in Zeh’s process.

“It required three written quotes or proposals,” Dermody said. “The third one came in…it was dated March 2; the purchase was made February 10, so it’s not a written proposal that could have been considered.”

The bid from Van Buren, she went on, came in on Jan. 31, and there was a town board meeting on Feb. 8, so Zeh should have brought the purchase to the board’s attention at that time, she said.

Dermody then suggested the town return the washer to the company, insisting that it was stated in the procurement law that the request for proposals required town-board authorization, but the law contains no such language.

Chase asked Zeh if there was a state or county bid for a washer; Zeh replied that the price on the bid submitted by Granger Industrial Supply was the state-bid price, though he did not provide supporting evidence of this when requested by Dermody.

The bid from Grainger came in at either $4,400 or $4,700 and change, Dermody said; a bid from Napa Auto Parts came in at either $5,300 or $7,000; and a bid from Greenville Auto and Truck Parts came in at $4,941, she said.

Dermody asked if it was appropriate to spend $4,000 on a pressure washer, to which Zeh replied, “You’re going to save this town hundreds of thousands of dollars because you need to wash the salt off of these trucks…because we’re not going to have enough money left in the bank to buy new trucks for a very long time, because the town board used up a lot of it to balance the budget.”

Replied Dermody, “I think we have a town law in place for a reason.” She then asked Zeh to retrieve the written request for proposals from his office; Zeh declined to get the document, and went on to say that he thought it was not fiscally efficient to return the now-used piece of equipment and then go out to bid again.

“Then,” Dermody replied, “you should be personally responsible for purchasing it. Pay for it and take it home. I don’t know what to tell you.”

Councilman Chase made a motion to return the pressure washer to the vendor, due to a violation of the town’s procurement policy.

“I think,” said Councilman Bolte, “when you talk to the public and see what a job has been done on these roads, and you see what our trucks look like, that they’re taken care of…I don’t think we can nitpick at him, and I think that’s what we’re doing.”

Attorney Joseph Catalano advised the board that, in the past, requests for proposals had been approved by the town board.

“It’s a checks and balance,” said Catalano. “We just want to make sure it doesn’t happen again…because it could be something that is even more expensive or serious.”

In a 3-2 vote, the board decided to return the pressure washer to the vendor; Chase, Dermody, and Councilman John Kudlack, also a Democrat, voted in favor of returning the washer; Cooke and Bolte were opposed.

Cooke later made a motion to rescind the previous motion, but to no avail.

Other business

In other business at its March 8 meeting, the town board:

— Heard from Supervisor Dermody that town facilities will likely be receiving lighting upgrades this weekend, which may come at no cost to the town.

A recent lighting audit by Alliance Energy Solutions showed that the only lights in Rensselaerville’s town buildings that are “efficiency-compliant” are the ones that Highway Superintendent Zeh had installed in the mechanics’ bay.

Dermody then found out that the town could upgrade its lighting for free. Central Hudson Gas and Electric Corporation is offering to cover 70 percent of the cost of lighting upgrades to all government-owned buildings, according to the company’s website, and the remaining 30 percent will be paid for as well if the town assigns its Energy Policy Act (EPACT) deductions to Alliance Energy Solutions, Central Hudson’s lighting partner;

— Heard that the town collected 16.5 gallons of waste oil in February;

— After voting to send back bids for mowing and trimming due to a discrepancy in the bid specifications over insurance, scheduled a special meeting for April 7 at 7 p.m. to re-open bids for mowing and trimming;

— Accepted a bid from Big Top for port-a-potties at the town’s parks;

— Heard from Dermody that, if the town participates in Household Hazardous Waste and Computer Recycling Day on May 7, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., half of the cost will be covered by a Household Hazardous Waste Collection grant;

— Heard from Recycling Coordinator Jon Whitbeck that the town sold seven tons of recycled paper materials to Green Fiber in February;

— Unanimously adopted an updated law regulating access to public records, available for review on www.rensselaerville.com; and

— Adjusted its agreement with the town of Westerlo for use of Rensselaerville’s senior vehicle, used to transport the elderly to doctors’ appointments and on shopping trips.

While the previous agreement stated that Westerlo would reimburse Rensselaerville for 53 cents per mile for Rensselaerville’s regularly scheduled shopping trips on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and for any other joint uses, and $1.06 per mile for trips involving only Westerlo residents, the rates were changed to 70 cents for the former, and $1.40 for the latter, in anticipation of rising gas prices.

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