Cotton: Time to break in-house pattern

Cotton: Time to break in-house pattern


Eric Cotton

There are a number of notable examples in which the town of Wallingford’s reluctance to hire outside contractors has proven pennywise and pound foolish, and yet the pattern rarely if ever seems to change.

When Connecticut was buried under four feet of snow this past February, many cities and towns used even more private contractors than usual to help clear the streets and other critical areas.

In Wallingford, however, the Public Works Department was on its own for the most part. The town rented two machines, one that came with an operator, but the vast majority of snow removal was left to municipal employees who struggled mightily to keep up. The town incurred about $128,000 in overtime costs related to the storm.

Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said at the time that he isn’t necessarily opposed to using private contractors, but tries to do so sparingly. “It’s not that we don’t ever do it,” he told a Record-Journal reporter. “We do it when it’s necessary.” But of course it was necessary after February’s historic snowfall, as anyone could plainly see. Even Dickinson conceded after the storm that town officials would have to assess whether putting snow removal services out to bid would be a good idea moving forward.

When the town was cited for illegal dumping at a Public Works facility on North Turnpike Road in June the state mandated that all 500 tons of waste material be removed from the site as soon as possible. The Public Works Department responded by making two allocations of $7,499 each to haul the material away. By authorizing that amount each time the town avoided having to put the work out to bid, at least initially. Public Works Director Henry McCully said he had hoped the entire project could be handled in house, but ultimately the work was “more extensive than we thought” and the town had to put it out to bid anyway. Wallingford missed a deadline for compliance with environmental laws, but the state has yet to issue fines because local officials are cooperating. Bids from private haulers were due back to the town this past week.

At one point construction of a temporary parking lot on the town-owned Wooding-Caplan site was going to be handled by a private contractor, but again town officials decided it would be better to have Public Works do it in hopes of saving time and money.

Work began a few months ago, but in June the Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited the town for six “serious” violations and the project stalled shortly afterward. Town councilors last week asked for a status report concerned that the lot might not be ready for the Celebrate Wallingford festival in October. They were told that the whole project wouldn’t be completed in time, but that the parking lot itself would be in place and available to the public.

Hopefully, that’s true. It’s clear, however, that Public Works is stretched too thin and that the headaches associated with having an already overworked department handle projects in house often simply aren’t worth it. And yet we learned earlier this month that once again Public Works is the town’s first choice for another local project – the planned upgrades to the parking lot at Vietnam Veterans Memorial Park slated to begin in November. The town engineer said earlier this month that he’s been assured Public Works can handle the work and that it won’t have to be put out to bid.

It’s time to break the pattern.

Reach Managing Editor/News Eric Cotton at (203) 317-2344 or Follow him on Twitter at ecotton3.

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