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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, August 11, 2011

After awarding bid, town gives road work to wrong company, compensates

By Zach Simeone

RENSSELAERVILLE — After awarding a public bid for roadwork to Cobleskill Stone, the town highway department allowed Carver Sand and Gravel to perform the work instead.

So, at Tuesday’s Rensselaerville Town Board meeting, the board voted unanimously to let Cobleskill Stone perform the work on another road to compensate for what is being called an oversight by Acting Highway Superintendent David Potter.

The board did not formally address the legality of awarding 10s of thousands of dollars of roadwork without soliciting any bids. New York Town Law states, “Every officer, board, or agency of a town shall let all contracts for public work and all purchase contracts to the lowest responsible bidder after advertisement for bids….”

“It’s the fair thing to do, but it may not be the technical thing to do,” Attorney Joseph Catalano told the town board after it voted to give Cobleskill Stone the McCulloch Road project.

Representatives from Cobleskill Stone had planned to attend Tuesday’s meeting, but instead spoke to The Enterprise on the subject the following day.

Cobleskill Stone had been awarded the bid to pave Siebert Road as the first project on the 2011 highway agreement between the town board and the highway department.

When it came time to pay the bills at Tuesday’s meeting, Councilman Robert Bolte questioned a voucher from Carver, dated July 6, 2011, citing $46,817 worth of paving work on Siebert Road. Town Attorney Joseph Catalano confirmed that Cobleskill Stone had been awarded the bid for the project, but that the work was done by Carver.

“We have no contract with Cobleskill Stone, but they were awarded the bid,” Catalano told Bolte. “I talked to Acting Superintendent Potter about that. He was unaware of the fact that — he went out and got quotes for that particular project, and Carver came in as substantially less.”

“Yeah,” replied Bolte, “the fact being that $46,000 would have to go out for public bid, being over our bid limit to begin with.”

“Mr. Potter understands that now,” Catalano replied.

Potter had been named acting superintendent in May, after Conservative Gary Zeh resigned in the wake of ongoing controversy with the board. Zeh took office in 2010, having ousted longtime Democratic incumbent G. Jon Chase.

Councilwoman Marion Cooke added, “I think the problem with this is, we had a $3,000 pressure washer, and Gary Zeh was slammed upside his head because of it. Here, we’ve got a $46,000 voucher; I think the least we do is owe an apology to Cobleskill Stone.”

In June, the three board members present voted to purchase a pressure washer from Van Buren Enterprises for $3,930. Between February and March, the town had purchased and returned this very same pressure washer because Zeh, then-highway superintendent, purchased the machine after getting two written quotes and one verbal quote, instead of the three written quotes required by the town’s procurement policy. Zeh acquired the third quote in written form the following month.

Responding to Cooke at Tuesday’s meeting, Democratic Supervisor Marie Dermody assured her that Potter had contacted Cobleskill Stone, adding that Potter saved the town money by having the work performed by Carver; Potter reported later that the project was completed $7,500 under budget.

“And people are allowed to make a mistake once,” said Dermody. “This is his one mistake.”

“It’s not the saving of the money,” replied Cooke. “It’s the honor of the town.”

John Holmes, an attorney who represents Cobleskill Stone, said Wednesday that the company had considered making an appearance at Tuesday’s meeting.

“Our original intent was to be put on the agenda, to appear, and to ask for an explanation as to why the first road job was not given to us, because we were the low bidder,” Holmes told The Enterprise. “Subsequently, we were notified that the next scheduled road job would be awarded to us. At that point, we said, ‘OK let’s withdraw that appearance, and let bygones be bygones.’ It was more of a business decision than anything.”

Asked whether the awarding of the McCulloch Cross Road project to Cobleskill Stone would be adequate compensation for the loss of the Siebert Road project, Holmes replied, “From a legal point of view, it’s probably not adequate compensation, but we’re not seeking any further compensation. Adequate compensation would be reimbursement for what the projected profit would have been if we did the first one, but we’re not pursuing that. It’s not a large enough matter to justify that.”

Holmes said that Cobleskill Stone was contacted about being awarded the McCulloch Cross Road project late last week. At the time that the 2011 highway agreement was approved, this project was estimated to cost the town $53,000; on Tuesday, Potter provided a more recent estimate of $56,164. The Siebert Road project, at the time the highway agreement was passed, was projected to cost $59,974.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Potter addressed the board on the Siebert Road project.

“That was my first blacktop project,” he said. “If I screwed it up, I apologize for that. I didn’t intend to screw up. This was Phase 2 that we did this year, and I thought it came out pretty good.” Phase 1 of the work on Siebert Road had been completed by Carver in recent years.

Cooke said to Potter, “When New York State paves 400 miles of Thruway, they don’t have the same vendor do the whole 400 miles. You’re responsible for the sections that you do. So, to say, ‘It’s Phase 2, and Carver had to do it,’ I think is wrong.”

“Well,” Potter said, “We have something that the state doesn’t do; we have in-place paving, which is a mistake. We could have saved a lot of money on McCulloch Cross Road as well.”

Cooke asked if Potter had been aware that Cobleskill Stone had the bid before that, to which Potter replied, “I thought that, because they were the original contractor, that Phase 2 should go to them.”

“Well,” Cooke said, “It’s a dead horse anyway.”

Other business

In other business at its Aug. 9 meeting, the Rensselaerville Town Board:

— Voted to authorize Attorney Catalano to draft a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in town, and to form an independent committee to research the pros and cons of hydraulic fracturing, in anticipation of the creation of regulations by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation;

— Accepted Kathy Wank’s resignation as clerk to the highway superintendent;

— Appointed Kayla Lee as acting clerk to the highway superintendent;

— Accepted an offer from the Albany County Sheriff’s Department to enter into an inmate work program, through which prisoners will be put to work painting and cleaning fire hydrants, and possibly work in other capacities;

— Accepted Roger Gifford’s resignation as chairman of the zoning board of appeals;

— Appointed James Glorioso as chairman of the zoning board of appeals. His term ends Dec. 31, 2011;

— Appointed John Mormile to the zoning board of appeals, with a term to end on Dec. 31, 2013;

— Heard from Supervisor Dermody that all damage from the June 8 storm, which disabled a number of electronics at Town Hall, including a network card in one of the copy machines, a network switch that is replaceable under warranty, and the phone system, will be covered by insurance, minus a $1,000 deductible;

— Hired Keith Bates for 150 hours and Doyle Shaver for 100 hours as temporary highway workers. Neither job was advertised, and no one at the meeting knew exactly how much money was left in the highway budget;

— Voted to sell a used, 2000 Ford truck with plow for $1,307; and

— Heard from Recycling Coordinator Jon Whitbeck that the town, last month, had sold 8.52 tons of paper recyclables to Green Fibers and 7.71 tons of scrap metal to Rensselaerville Iron and Steel, and acquired 37 gallons of waste oil. Whitbeck also thanked Potter for fixing a longstanding drainage problem at the transfer station.

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