City waits on bill signing before sidewalk project can begin

By Jason Stuart

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

The city of Glendive is gearing up to move forward with going out to bid for the sidewalk, curb and gutter program, but city officials are currently waiting on Gov. Steve Bullock to sign a bill into law before starting the process in earnest.

The sidewalk, curb and gutter program — in which local residents were asked to sign up to have work on those features abutting their property done with the cost assessed to their city tax bill and spread out over 10 years — ended up being far larger than the city had originally anticipated. Assistant Public Works Director Pete Leath told the city Streets Committee on Tuesday that the total cost of the project will likely fall somewhere between $400,000 to $600,000.

The issue for the city is that the estimated construction cost of the project means that the engineering costs would exceed the current threshold under Montana law at which local governments must go through the Request for Proposals (RFP) process when hiring an engineering firm. Under current law, local governments must go through the RFP process — similar to the bidding process for construction contractors — if the estimated engineering fees for the project will be more than $20,000.

The issue with that is the extra time the RFP process adds to any construction project. Mayor Jerry Jimison noted to the Streets Committee that ideally, the city would hope to avoid that to be certain that the sidewalks project gets completed this year.

“(The RFP process) slows things down about two months, and we’re already in construction season,” Jimison said.

Councilman Rhett Coon added that the RFP process can actually take even longer, further adding his opinion that the current laws governing the process give engineering firms a somewhat unfair advantage in negotiating contract terms with local governments.

“That two to three month delay, that’s on a best case scenario, and you can’t talk price before the RFPs, so you’re kind of on the hook for whatever the engineer comes back with,” Coon said.

That RFP process will all change once the governor signs SB 278 into law. The bill, which was carried by local Sen. Steve Hinebauch at the behest of the city, increases the threshold at which local governments must go through the RFP process when hiring engineers from $20,000 to $50,000. 

City officials are confident the increase will give them the leeway to directly negotiate a contract for the sidewalk project with an engineering firm without having to go through the RFP process, Jimison noted.

The bill to increase the RFP threshold sailed through both houses of the Legislature with only two votes against it combined and should be landing on Bullock’s desk in the next few days.

 

Reach Jason Stuart at rrreporter@rangerreview.com.

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