City spurns contractor over past performance

File photo Main Street is torn up in June 2016 during the second year of the downtown infrastructure project. The 2016 project missed the contracted completion deadline and the city is considering past contractor performance in awarding future bids.

The past performance of construction contractors should be a consideration in awarding future projects, according to Minot City Council members.

The topic of contractor performance arose during Committee of the Whole discussions Tuesday and Wednesday, culminating in a vote to recommend denial of street patching and sidewalk, curb and gutter contracts to a low bidder. The action is expected to bring the company’s attorney to Monday’s council meeting.

On Tuesday, city council member Josh Wolsky asked that the city establish a database to track how contractors perform. Past performance and quality of work should be considerations in bid awards, along with price, he said.

City Manager Tom Barry said the city already has started that process.

On Wednesday, the committee was presented with a recommendation to accept the bid of Minot Paving for $419,254 on 2018 street patching, passing over the lower bid of Keller Paving & Landscaping.

Keller had missed the completion date and incurred liquidated damages on the 36th Avenue Northwest extension project. The committee voted Tuesday to recommend approval of final payment of $183,797, which reflects the subtracted liquidated damages. Keller also is in negotiations with the city over liquidated damages of about $190,000 for delays on the downtown infrastructure construction project in 2016. Prior to 2016, Keller had delays on other projects, although the company also has done city work that has gone well.

Mayor Chuck Barney cast a dissenting vote against passing over Keller’s bid on street patching, which was about $90,000 less than the second lowest bid.

“To send a message on the back of the taxpayers for $90,000 is out of my comfort zone,” said Barney, noting it amounts to three-quarters of a mill of property tax. “I think the message needs to be sent – but not at that price.”

He said he can support bypassing a low bidder if the next bid is close. He added there is no guarantee the project will be problem-free with the second lowest bidder.

Barry said Minot Paving’s bid remains $20,000 below the engineer’s estimate. He said costs could be much higher than the low bid if there are problems with the contractor.

Barney called the engineer’s estimate immaterial and questioned whether the additional costs with a troublesome project would amount to $90,000.

Council member Stephan Podrygula cited the inconvenience of the 79 late days on the downtown project and 123 late days on the 36th Avenue project.

“I think there are these hidden costs. It’s not just a matter of dollars for the city,” he said.

Justin Thurn with Keller said Thursday it is not unusual for issues to arise on larger projects, causing delays.

“Every contractor in town has been charged with liquidated damages at one time or another,” he said. “We are not at all happy being made an example of. If they were not calling us a responsible bidder, why even open the package? Why did they even accept a bid from us?”

He acknowledged the public inconvenience of late project completion but added there is a project savings when the city collects liquidated damages, reducing the amount paid to the contractor.

The city seeks to hold back enough money before paying final bills to ensure funds are there to subtract any liquidated damages from a final payment.

The committee also voted to recommend the council award the bid for 2018 sidewalk, curb and gutter work to CMT Concrete and Construction for $306,035, rejecting the $279,236 bid from Keller.

“I appreciate that we are pushing back now, and we are no longer going to be anybody’s bank or the punching bag. The time has come,” council member Shannon Straight said.