By Scott Sullivan
Douglas’ efforts to disentangle “spaghetti lines” — side yard water connections not linked to mains — hit another snarl when the only bid on the city’s request for proposals came in 22-percent higher engineers’ estimate.
Lone respondent Dan Hoe Excavating, Inc., of Holland bid $619,570 to perform the water line work. City engineers, upon whose figures Douglas had predicated its cost allocations for three special assessment district rolls, last year estimated $445,000 to perform the work.
The city has worked for at least three years to address needs and how to spread costs as fairly as possible to install water main pipes and replace service lines (connecting from those mains to buildings) per new state requirements.
Council Nov. 19 last year approved districts:
- On Whittier Street south of Center Street, turning west on First Street to May Avenue;
- McVea Drive from Campbell Road south past Golf View to where it ends at the Westshore Golf Course redevelopment; and
- Fremont Street from Union Street west to Ellis Street then Ellis north to Center Street.
The $619,570 Hoe bid, city manager Bill LeFevere told council Monday, does not include approximately $40,000 of street work that would come from the city’s local street fund, not the districs, dropping the disparity from $174,500 to $134,500.
Still, “based on the current allocation of costs between the benefitted properties and the city at large,” said LeFevere, “the current bid results in approximately a $65,000 to $70,000 increase to the benefited properties.
“The special assessment ordinance,“ he went on, “provides several options for resolving the situation, but unfortunately the only option that would allow us to approve the current bid amount and move forward at this time would be if we accepted the entire overage as a city-at-large cost, so that the approved assessments for the benefited property owners did not change.
“While we should expect that the city-at-large will be responsible for a portion of whatever increased cost is ultimately approved, it would not be my recommendation that the city accept the total overage that way.
“At the other end of the spectrum, you (council) could also void the projects and abandon construction of them in their entirety. Given the extent of the need to address non-standard water lines in the community, I would not recommend that approach either.
“The second issue is the timing for any re-bid of the project. Given that we received only one bid, it seems unlikely that re-bidding it for construction this season will yield a more favorable result.
“On the assumption that the project gets pushed back to a next-year construction schedule, there are two matters in need of short-term solutions:
“1) The house currently under construction on McVea Drive began their project in reliance on the water line being installed in the same timeframe that they anticipate occupancy of the house. We need to install a temporary water line to serve this house until the permanent line can be installed, and
“2) We have delayed the much-needed repairs to the block of Fremont Street between Mixer and Ellis streets anticipating a resurfacing of that block with the water line project. We should now include this work as part of our street paving work this year by base-coating this block.”
LeFevere recommended that council deem the current assessment roll defective based on the estimate and actual bid disparities, and re-bid the project no later than this fall with construction to occur next year.
“With bids in hand,” the manager said, “you can then go back through the process of establishing the assessment rolls, conducting the public hearings (also required for the process) and re-adopting the resolutions.
“As we anticipate higher project costs going forward, you will need to ask the city attorney to review and city engineer to provide the justification that the costs for the improvements being assessed to the property owners are in proportion to the benefits they are receiving.”
Wait, more remains on the city’s plate. Other Douglas properties have substandard water main connections, said engineer Brian Vilmont last year, and the city may need to eye other assessment districts in the future.
Making things even more challenging, old water line maps are nonexistent. The city and Kalamazoo Lake Sewer and Water Authority do not know where illegal connections are because they were put in without direction or permit on private properties years ago.
Postponing these issues will not make them go away. LeFevere told council last summer the state will require utilities to pay for lead service line replacements at all homes within the next 20 years.
Such replacements will start in 2021, with line inventories required by 2020 to determine the project’s extent.
“During the past year,” LeFevere told council, “we also received considerable pressure for water and sewer line extensions in the Felker’s subdivision and we had anticipated adding at least one or two of those as additional work assigned to the contractor selected for the three special assessment district projects.
“There now may be time in a re-bid process to formally add other special assessment districts that could be bid out as part of a larger package.”
LeFevere suggested members consider amending the city’s special assessment ordinance to improve the accuracy and level of certainty of estimates to build these projects.
“Currently we are working with a limitation that only allows us to get ‘cost estimates’ for the work,” he said. “If we had been able to actually go out for bids for the work, we would have been in a much better position to determine how best to proceed as the assessment rolls were being prepared and the resolutions adopted.
“Given the current bidding environment and until contractor availability improves, we should anticipate that it is going to be more difficult to get what we deem to be competitive bids for the types of projects we are undertaking.
“This probably means higher project estimates and longer project lead times than we have been used to,” LeFevere said.
Council, on creating the districts last fall, passed an amendment that gives homeowners the one-time choice of the following:
- Pay for the assessment as soon as due;
- Pay in increments for the next 10 years, or before; or
- Defer the payment until death, via mortgage security on real property, or its sale or transfer.
Ordinance provisions require “each and every house shall have a single service connection” and “each and every separate building used for business purposes shall have a separate connection.”
Per city code, the preferred way to allocate costs is based on water main footage in front of each property. Individual owners are responsible for those costs, the city (by way of KLSWA) the footage running through intersections or along public rights-of-way.