Bid preference ordinance change unanimously voted down, will be revised

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Griswold - posted Thu., Jun. 27, 2013

A proposed amendment to a town ordinance specifying a preference for town-based business drew the ire of local tradesmen, who unanimously voted down the amendment at a June 25 town meeting, saying it didn’t effectively go far enough in opening town construction jobs to local workers.

As written, the proposed ordinance change would have permitted town officials to offer a qualified local contractor the chance to match the lowest bid, if the actual lowest bidder was not a local business. The town-based business would have to have submitted an initial bid within 10 percent of the lowest bid to receive such an offer.

First Selectman Phil Anthony said that the change was proposed in response to several sizeable town construction projects in which local contractors were edged out by lower-bidding firms from out of state. “We’ve had too many big projects done where our local tax-paying businesses didn’t have a chance,” he said.

While the intent was to support local contracting businesses, the tradesmen present at the meeting objected that the plan could still leave local construction workers out in the cold. “There’s no protection for local tradesmen and laborers,” said Ron Gromko. “You’re going for the contractors.” He said that he favored a 30 percent residency requirement for workers on all town-funded construction projects.

One audience member, a construction worker, said that it particularly rankled him to be “sitting on our thumbs with no work” while construction vehicles with out-of-state license plates showed up at local town-funded work sites. Requiring a quota of local residents on job sites would “even the playing field a little bit,” he said.

Audience members also objected to wording that gave the first selectman authority for determining whether a contractor qualified as a local business. The ordinance also gave the first selectman authority to provide a waiver from using a town-based bidder if the general contractor presents reasonable cause not to do so.

“There’s no input for the board of selectmen in this language,” said Ed Berdick. A unanimous vote of the assembly agreed to change the subsection’s wording to include the entire board of selectmen in the waiver process.

Responding to a question from the audience about the legality of the proposed ordinance change, Anthony said that it had already been reviewed and approved by the town attorney. “There are other towns across the state that have a similar or exact ordinance,” he said. “I know of no lawsuits in any of those towns.”

Selectman Steven Mikutel said he agreed with the tradesmen that a hiring quota would be a good thing. But he said that no substantive additions could be made to the ordinance proposal before the vote, since the meeting was advertised on the amendment as written. 

Anthony said after the meeting that he and the other selectmen were disappointed that the tradesmen’s suggestions had not been filed before the meeting. The proposed ordinance, he said, “was available for comment for a month and a half,” on the town website as well as in Town Hall. The board plans to draft a new version of the ordinance change, incorporating the townspeople’s suggested revisions, and bring it back before a town meeting later in the year, he said.

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