Drinking water contract spurs debate on Pittsfield council

Posted Sept. 07, 2010, at 11:06 p.m.

PITTSFIELD, Maine — The town has opted to skip the bid process and stick with a familiar engineering firm for a drinking water project over the objections of town councilors who said the company’s fees seem too high.

Olver Associates Inc. of Winterport has worked with the town on numerous water and sewer projects over the years, and when it came time to prepare applications for loans from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s drinking water program, the town again partnered with Olver. According to Town Manager Kathryn Ruth, Olver prepared a total of eight applications at no cost, including the submission of preliminary data about the projects.

Pittsfield was approved for three of the eight projects but so far has opted to move forward with only one: the reconstruction of a water line across the Sebasticook River at Waverly Avenue.

On Tuesday night, the council awarded up to $44,000 in design and inspection work to Olver Associates without first soliciting bids.

“I just think that’s too much money for inspections and drawings,” said Councilor Gary Jordan Jr. “I have a problem with $44,000. I don’t doubt that Olver is good, but that project is small, and this is a lot of money.”

Water piping across the Waverly Avenue bridge has been broken for years, meaning water lines dead-end on both sides. That creates an inability to flush the lines properly, said Ruth. Complicating the $508,500 project, according to Ruth, is the Maine Department of Transportation’s refusal to allow the reconstruction of the pipe on the bridge, meaning it must be routed across the riverbed at another location.

Ruth said hiring another engineering firm at this point might cause complications because the DEP approved the project based on Olver’s preliminary work. Councilor Caleb Curtis said that fact made him feel “like our hands are tied.”

Councilor Timothy Nichols agreed.

“Eventually, we’re going to end up fixing this problem one way or another,” said Nichols.

No one from Olver was at Tuesday’s council meeting. The council approved the contract unanimously. Ruth said she expects the engineering to be done later this year with construction beginning next spring.

In other business, Ruth asked the council to consider raises for town employees in the fiscal year 2011 budget. Pittsfield’s employees — of which there are 44 full- and part-time — traditionally have received raises of between 1 percent and 3 percent, but received nothing this year. A 3 percent raise for everyone would cost tax-payers about $31,000, with 1 percent raises costing about $10,000.

Councilor Christopher Carr said the town’s employees deserve the raise but that it’s a matter of what the town can afford.

“You can only keep people for so long without paying them raises,” said Carr. Nichols agreed, and said he’d like to give employees a raise if it’s possible. The council took no action on the proposal.

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