The Missoula City Council’s new self-described “lone conservative” objected to use of a non-traditional contract for a new city park Monday but was shut down by his 11 fellow council members who said their non-traditional approach would save money.
At his first regular council meeting as the Ward 4 alderman, Jesse Ramos voted “no” to an alternative project delivery contract for construction of MRL Park.
He voted “no” on two other fiscal resolutions as well, one approving city payments and the other involving Parks and Recreation fees for 2018.
The triangular park bounded by North, South and Johnson strees and the Bitterroot Branch Railroad sits on the edge of the Franklin to the Fort neighborhood in an area with few city amenities.
The Missoula Redevelopment Agency recommended building the project during the 2018 construction season to coincide with construction of the last remaining segment of the Bitterroot Trail, to take advantage of potential economies of scale by building the projects concurrently.
The timeline will also minimize disruption to the neighborhood, said Annette Marchesseault of Development Services.
But Ramos, reading from a prepared statement, said he “would like to see a traditional hard-dollar bid” simply awarding the contract to the “lowest qualified bidder.”
Not having the complete construction documents in hand during bidding, “we have no idea whether we are saving money as the resolution suggests,” he said.
But Councilman Bryan von Lossberg insisted that the non-traditional approach does save money for taxpayers – and has proved fiscally prudent on several other recent building projects, including the Park Place garage downtown and the Mary Avenue extension alongside Southgate Mall.
MRA executive director Ellen Buchanan explained that the alternative contract approach will allow her office to price the work in March “when the bidding climate is more favorable.”
“In our experience, being able to price things durig the winter months is definitely advantageous,” she said. “And it’s often very advantageous to have a contractor at the table during the final design process because they can suggest things that will be a cost savings.”
In a memo to the council, Marchesseault provided additional details:
“The most favorable bidding climate occurs before the middle of March, while contractors are seeking work for the construction season. However, it will be challenging to complete construction documents for the MRL Park Project by early March.
Under the Construction Manager at Risk (CMAR) project delivery method, a contractor will be selected through a Request for Proposal process, then will be asked to lock in unit prices by mid-February, with about 70 percent of construction documents available.
“This is expected to result in overall cost savings to the project,” Marchesseault said. “Having the contractor on board before the construction documents are completed allows the contractor to provide input on value engineering and constructability as the construction documents are finalized, resulting in a more efficient and cost-effective construction project.”
The city of Missoula bought the property from Montana Rail Link in 2016 for $2 million, well below its appraised price. MRL donated the remainder of the land’s value.
Ramos also objected to two other fiscal resolutions during Monday night’s council meeting.
He cast the lone dissenting vote on a resolution establishing the city’s Parks and Recreation 2018 fee and permit schedules for programs, facilities and concessionaires.
Most of the fees increased. They include assessments for using city facilities for weddings, renting lanes at the Splash Montana swimming pool, a fee for school tours and the use of park shelters and the Bonner Park band shell, and various uses of Parks and Rec facilities by commercial photographers.
Also included was a long list of charges for use of equipment and spaces at Fort Missoula, many related to weddings. The increases also include admission fees at the Currents and Splash Montana swimming pools.
Scholarships are available for low-income local residents, including senior citizens.
“I’m going to be voting no on this simply because I don’t have enough details” on a $3 million accounting error that necessitated a city budget amendment late last month, Ramos said.
He also said citizens pay “triple taxes” on Splash Montana because they are assessed property taxes for the pool’s construction costs, an SID and “this steep entrance fee.”
Councilwoman Gwen Jones said the fee schedule came before City Council in December but spent a little more time in committee to make certain there is a way to accommodate senior citizens who might not be able to afford higher pool fees.
The fees only cover costs, Jones said, and are not intended to generate extra revenue.
In addition, Ramos voted against approving $805,557.82 in city checks issued on Dec. 26, 2017.
That objection came in response to a $1,867 to Boone Karlberg law firm, which represented the city in its legal fight to acquire Mountain Water Co.
Ramos said he also wants a detailed, line-item report on all costs related to the utility’s acquisition, “which was promised to taxpayers.”