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Commissioners question awarding lowest-bidder contracts

Some St. Louis County commissioners questioned the practice of awarding contracts to the lowest bidder, when other companies might do more for local workers.

Some St. Louis County commissioners questioned the practice of awarding contracts to the lowest bidder, when other companies might do more for local workers.
As a result, action was delayed a week on the Virginia 911/public works expansion project.
Tuesday, the board faced two public works projects. One was a cold storage building in Floodwood, the other a metal clad building in Virginia that will provide storage and work space for the road construction engineering division.
Morton Buildings Inc., was the low bidder for both projects. In Floodwood, Morton came in at $48,447, well below the next bidder, Lester Building Systems at $56,690.
But in Virginia, the bids were tighter. Morton came in at $51,878. Max Grey Construction was $54,200, and Lenci Enterprises was $54,300.
For the Floodwood project, Commissioners Mike Forsman, Steve Raukar and Paul Plesha voiced concerns that it would be built without union labor.
At least some of the commissioners were contacted by the building trades regarding the vote but Commissioner Peg Sweeney said the unions had adequate time to come forward with their concerns about Morton, but hadn't provided anything concrete. She also pointed out the contracts required paying prevailing wages.
County Attorney Alan Mitchell advised that unless there was a rational basis for not awarding the bid, denying it would risk litigation. Subsequently, the Floodwood project was approved unanimously.
But the building in Virginia hit closer to home for some commissioners as two of the three bidders were Iron Range firms. There were similar arguments against awarding the bid to Morton, a national company with a unit in Grand Rapids.
This is a time to look the issue in the eye and challenge it," said Raukar. "... I would be willing to go with the second bid here."
Plesha noted the second and third bids were within $100 of each other, and said he'd support keeping the tax dollars in St. Louis County.
"We certain give lip issue to the idea of trying to create jobs and keep dollars at home," Raukar said. "I think this may be an opportunity to break from the rank of doing what is rational and challenge this and award the second bidder."
"If you want to stay legal here, either accept the Morton bid or reject them all," Mitchell said. "If you reject all bids you can figure it's going to be a good two months, though if you award it to Max Grey or Lenci we will do what we can to defend it."
Raukar moved to table it for a week. It passed 4-3, with Raukar, Forsman, Plesha and Commissioner Joanne Fay voting in favor.
In other action, the board approved paying more for the right of way costs for a snowmobile trail to connect the Willard Munger State Trail in Hermantown to the North Shore Trail in Duluth.
Originally, the total cost had been set at $100,000 for the right of way agent to acquire easements. That has been raised to $150,000 for easements from about 80 landowners.

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