SOUTHINGTON — A town ordinance is supposed to give local companies a better chance at town work but a question over definitions shut out one local company from getting that chance.
Town leaders are considering a change to ensure local companies can take advantage of the ordinance.
Troy Karwowski, owner of Sav-Mor Cooling & Heating LLC at 231 Captain Lewis Drive, raised the issue with town officials. His company bid on HVAC work for the new library in June.
The Whiting-Turner Contracting Company of Shelton is overseeing the bids and project for the town. While Karwowski’s company is based on Captain Lewis Drive in town, he owns the land under another company name, 231 Realty LLC, as a way to protect the company.
Since Sav-Mor Cooling & Heating doesn’t own real estate in town, Karwowski said Whiting-Turner didn’t consider his company a local one and didn’t apply the preferred bidding ordinance to him.
“I think a lot of business owners in town would be shocked to learn they’re not a local bidder,” he said.Local bidder program
The preferred bidding ordinance allows a local company to meet the lowest bid of an out-of-town company. The local company’s bid must be within a percentage of that lowest bid to be elilgible.
Karwowski said his bid for HVAC work at the library, totaling nearly $1.6 million, was within the percentage range qualifying him for the ordinance. The winning bid, from Air Temp Mechanical Services Inc., was $27,255 lower than Sav-Mor’s bid.
Documents listing bids opened this summer provided by Karwowski listed Air Temp as a Southington company. Air Temp bought a Berlin property last year and now lists that Berlin address on its company website.
Bid documents listed Sav-Mor as a Bristol company. Karwowski said the company has never owned property in Bristol.
The work was rebid but Karwowski’s company wasn’t within the required percentage of the lowest bidder. Air Temp was the lowest bid, although the total had risen by about $30,000. Karwowski said all the bids rose during the second bidding due to an increase in materials.Changes in ownership
Alex Ricciardone, Southington’s corporation counsel, said the bidding ordinance intended to support local businesses has existed since 2008. While town officials have known which companies are local and which aren’t, Whiting-Turner looked at the ordinance anew when reviewing bids for library work. An attorney for Whiting-Turner realized that companies that didn’t own real property in town weren’t eligible.
At the time of the ordinance’s approval, most companies owned property under the same name. That’s no longer the case, he said.
“It’s excluded almost everybody,” Ricciardone said.
Two town councilors worked on changing the ordinance. Val DePaolo, a council Democrat, and Bill Dziedzic, a council Republican, both attorneys by trade, have discussed changes with Ricciardone.
Under their proposal, the ordinance would apply to companies that own real property or who hold a lease of more than one year for a Southington location.
The goal of the ordinance was to give local companies a chance to work on local jobs for the same price as an out-of-town company, Dziedzic said.
“I think this (change) now captures the original spirit of the ordinance,” he said.
DePaolo said the language is now more precise. She also added a requirement that companies using the preferred bidding ordinance be up-to-date on taxes and property declarations.
“You don’t want businesses who aren’t paying their property taxes,” she said.Public hearing, potential vote
Last month, the council voted to schedule a public hearing on the ordinance change for the Oct. 11 council meeting.
Councilors all voted in favor of the public hearing except Chris Palmieri, a Democrat who said there was more to consider before moving the change forward. He said towns including Simsbury have dropped their local bidder ordinance and wanted to determine if it was even beneficial.
While the public hearing will take place on Oct. 11, it’s not clear if the council will vote on the matter then.