Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Middletown Senior Center

I ALWAYS read with interest the Middletown Newsletter by Ron Santa. BTW., he does all the residents a real service with all this work. The March 17 Council meeting had an interesting item on its agenda. That was the Consent Calendar item relating that bids had been received for the painting of the Senior Ctr. dining room, the scope of the work, the decision on who to award it to, & then a resolution awarding the job to the second lowest bidder.

The consent calendar usually gets a pass with many items approved with one quick vote, unless a Councillor or someone in the audience wants to discuss an item & that's what happened this time and with good reason. These are the bids rec'd for the job:

Seaside Painting, Midd.- $5,100 Moffit Painting (Wakefield)- $11,708, O'Hearn (Newport) $14,250, Urbane Const. (Cranston) - $19,800, and Medajo (Central Falls) $20,214.

Surprisingly in the bid decision, it was not awarded to the lowest bidder and there was no explanation as to why. Councilman Silveira took the bull by the horns, stepped where few have dared to tred in challenging anything to do with the Center, and asked the mother of all questions- WHY?

The answer was that the lowest bidder did not post a job bond. Let me explain this a bit more. It is at the town's discretion whether or not a bond is required. This would be contained (or not) in the bid sheet. To post a bond you must actually post a % of the job money. It could be 50% or even 100%. If you do not complete the job satisfactorily, it is then forfeit. So posting a bond can be expensive & costs are passed along to the consumer.

One might ask why in a small job like this it was even required. And when such a huge discrepancy was spotted in bid prices, why it wasn't put out to bid a second time without a bond requirement to see what the results were? That did not happen. One might also ask if Workmens' Comp is a job requirement. This makes a difference. W.C. is expensive- esp. for painters. However, if it is supplied, then the town reaps the benefit in decreased insurance costs for itself. Some of these firms may have it, others not. All of these may explain the wild difference in bids.

Another explanation for the high cost of this particular job is 18' ceilings. To install a dropped ceiling is neither difficult nor expensive. It would certainly make any future painting a LOT cheaper. However, it is relatively easy for a town-funded dept. to not explore any of these areas & simply pass any costs not in their budget onto the town.

What other dept. does this? None.

In tough times (and these are them), nobody in town gov't gets a pass. This dept. employs a full-time director (not that long ago it was part-time & is so in Portsmouth) & funds a part-time custodian who also works elsewhere for the town. It is fully funded by the town & is directly under their jurisdiction. This is not true in the surrounding towns. While they are mostly town-funded, they govern themselves & even raise substantial funding on their own (not grants).

In the past few years, the town has spent a lot of money on this Center- new kitchen, outside painting, new windows, inside painting, etc. This is an old bldg. Perhaps our monies could be better spent elsewhere. A new bldg? Renting space? Adding an area for teens and other rec facilities?

The Director has an operating budget & a board of directors. In my review of the few minutes available, there is rarely a Director's report. Who's watching the spending? There is no audit of this spending (handled through a private checking account). The Dir. is the sole holder of this account with no counter-signature required. Huh?

I've seen 6-8 mos. of this account awhile ago- remember when Councilor Silveira got a Council slap for requesting records?. I found little income rec'd for membership. Exactly how many certified members are there? It's a reasonable question to ask. I also saw expenditures for small gifts to those offering volunteer services; e.g., flowers sent to entertainers. Another, huh? Whose money is this anyway? This is a wise way to spend limited funds? How about a card?
I have had a number of people tell me that they would be happy to share their computer savvy (and other knowledge) with seniors & I know at least one made this known to the Dir. Nope. Better to pay someone.

It certainly is worth discussing the point that the Sr. Ctr. should NOT be a town dept. It could still receive town funding, but its control would be in the hands of a board. It's definitely easier to spend someone else's money than your own, knowing that there is a bottom line. This is what MANY towns/cities in the state & our own area do. There is also an argument to handle the library in this fashion also. Takes politics out of both areas.

Like I said, no dept. is sacrosant. It is, after all, OUR MONEY. I want to be assured (constantly) that it's being spent wisely & efficiently. I'm not seeing that in this case.

Why couldn't the town have done this job? Painting equipment (and I'm betting this will be sprayed) is available for rental. This was not an ASAP job. A little more thought in getting this job done economically would have been appreciated.

Thanks, Councillor Silveira, for at least giving it a shot.

While I'm on a roll- the web page is atrocious, no one responds to e-mail, and the minutes are scant. I can't tell if this group rarely meets, or just doesn't bother with public filings (4 agendas in 1 yr. with 2 sets of minutes).
I support a Senior Center for the town. I also support fiscal responsibility with lots of transparency. What about you?
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