The Marion Board of Selectmen on February 19 signed a letter ordering its contracted engineering firm to suspend its ongoing work for the Town after a recent miscalculation of the cost estimate for the wastewater treatment plant upgrades project.
CDM Smith had estimated that the wastewater facility project, which includes the lining of one of the lagoons, would cost the Town about $2.5 million, but when bids on the project closed last month, the lowest bid offered was for $4.7 million.
The board was stunned by the discrepancy and, in the letter, described the serious consequences the Town now faces because of such a significant shortfall in funds to complete the project by the EPA’s deadline of December 1, 2019.
“A missed estimate of this magnitude will cause serious issues as we try to secure additional debt authorization from ratepayers,” the letter reads. “In addition, securing this additional debt will almost certainly result in the need for the Town to request … additional time to complete the lagoon lining as we now will be unable to meet the mandated completion date. … [T]his complication will severely impact, and likely delay, our ongoing negotiations with state regulators.”
The selectmen ordered CDM Smith to immediately suspend its current work on “I&I” (inflow and infiltration related to wastewater) and the Town’s Pavement Management Plan.
“The Town intends to explore other avenues to complete these tasks,” the letter reads.
Selectmen also want CDM Smith to update its cost estimates for all of its other ongoing projects for which it has a contract with the Town, and include detailed explanations of how those costs were reached. They also want a full cost breakdown of estimates the engineering firm provided for the Spring Street Phase 4 project (estimated at $432,000), and the so-called “dust-off” of the costs estimates for Phase 1B (estimated at $25,000).
Furthermore, the selectmen want CDM Smith to provide them with written, detailed accounts of how such an error could have occurred in its cost estimate.
The board believes that [these] actions are reasonable, measured and appropriate to the unfortunate position the Town now finds itself in,” reads the letter.
Town Administrator Paul Dawson said it is also possible that the Town will revisit its contract language with CDM Smith as it pertains to providing cost estimates, but discussion is ongoing.
“This is a reasonable measure and an appropriate response to the position that we find ourselves in at this point,” Dawson said.
In other matters, the selectmen are leaning towards attempting to fund one last major repair on the old trash collector truck that has repeatedly failed over the past year, leaving the Town at a loss of what to do in order to make it to Town Meeting without financial appropriation for either an outsourced contract or a new truck.
“Without the truck, we have no options,” said Selectman John Waterman.
“Without it, we’re really hurting,” said Interim DPW Superintendent Jon Henry.
However, the board will not hold a Special Town Meeting to appropriate funds for any other option, so the selectmen are hopeful that they could get Finance Committee approval to use the remaining Reserve Fund balance to pay the $52,000 in repairs.
According to Finance Director Judy Mooney, there should be about $81,000 remaining in the Reserve Fund.
“We’re really in a precarious situation here because the truck that we are using goes out with the Saint Christopher medal,” said Henry.
The board will discuss the matter with the Finance Committee during a joint meeting on March 6. Waterman suggested inviting Henry to speak as well, while Dawson suggested inviting everyone, including the National Guard.
Henry has been tasked with getting an “ironclad estimate” from the mechanic, but was not authorized to allow repairs to begin without funding secured first.
Also during the meeting, the board discussed a proposed balanced budget for fiscal year 2020 with Mooney and Dawson, reviewing the highlights, increases and decreases, and new line items. Dawson called it a “sensible operating budget,” and asked the board for its “blessing” to pass it over to the Finance Committee for consideration. With the preliminary budgets from ORR and Sippican School included, the draft FY20 budget totals $23,768,210.
The board also approved sending letters about televising meetings to the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Marion Open Space Acquisition Commission as an effort to “try to improve the transparency and the availability of the activities of these rather important committees,” as Dawson put it.
“This is in no way critical of their past practice,” said Waterman. “The more open we can be with the public about what’s happening in the community, the better.”
In other matters, the board approved a plan to replace the four electric vehicles. The Town will buy two 2019 Nissan Leafs – one for the Recreation Department and one for the Department of Public Works, and will lease two Mitsubishi Outbacks – one for the building commissioner and one for the Council on Aging. The total is estimated at $45,000, under the $55,000 Town Meeting approved.
The candidate the board chose as the next treasurer/collector, Susan Laak, has declined to take the job after several attempts at contract negotiations, so the position has now been offered to the second runner up, Katherine Milligan.
“I feel good about that we’ll be able to get a deal done,” said Dawson.
The next regular meeting of the Marion Board of Selectmen is scheduled for March 5 at 7:00 pm at the Marion Town House.
Marion Board of Selectmen
By Jean Perry