PARKMAN, Maine — When the board of selectmen voted in June not to accept the low bid for winter snow plowing, it ignited a debate on whether it was better for townspeople to award a contract to the lowest bidder or to the firm that the selectmen had the most confidence in.
The selectmen chose reliability over price by voting 2-1 on June 24 to accept Bailey Construction’s bid made by owner Seth Elderkin to plow the town’s 32 miles of roads. Elderkin’s bid of $2,850 per mile was the second lowest. The low bid came from Herrick Construction, owned by Winn Herrick of Abbot, for $2,812.50 per mile.
Several residents criticized the decision at the board meeting and by writing letters to the editor to The Piscataquis Observer. The selectmen understood that their decision would be criticized by some residents, but say they feel most of it was undeserved, and pointed out two letters in The Piscataquis Observer they describe as having inaccurate information. One letter stated that the selectmen awarded the contract to the second highest bidder, and another letter stated the selectmen’s decision came after limited debate. The writer believed the selectmen may have made the decision during a secret meeting.
“I don’t mind the criticism as long it as it’s factual. Those two letters were inaccurate,” Selectman James Morin Sr. said. “There was no secret meeting and the contract went to the second lowest bidder, not the second highest.”
Baily Construction’s bid is the second lowest for Year 1 of the three-year contract, but in the next two years the cost rises. The per-mile cost rises by $50 per mile each year, and if fuel prices reach $5 per gallon an additional 4 percent increase is added to the contract.
For years two and three, Bailey Construction becomes the second highest bidder behind Tim Knowlton Carpentry of Abbot, which bid $3,483 per mile. Some residents believed Bailey Construction’s bid was too costly, especially since the other bids precalculated possible fuel increases.
Morin, along with Selectwoman Trina Gray, voted to accept the bid from Elderkin, who is the nephew of Selectwoman Pat Johnson. Johnson was the only board member who voted to award the three-year snow plow contract to low-bidder Herrick Construction.
Even though Johnson voted for the low bidder, resident Christian McGinn indicated that she had a conflict of interest and shouldn’t have voted at all on the matter. After the vote, Morin and Gray signed the contract, but Johnson didn’t.
“Pat told us we had better have a good reason,” Morin said about not accepting the lowest bid. “I know it created a quite a bit of controversy, but we both thought our decision was made in the best interest of the town.”
The town received five bids for the snow plow contract. The bidders were Bailey Construction in Parkman; Herrick Construction of Abbot; Winter Deep Plowing and Sanding, operated by former Farren Bros. employee Stephen Lawson and Matt McKusick, both of Dexter, who bid $2,878 per mile; Davis and Northup General Contracting, of Parkman, which bid $2,900; and Tim Knowlton Carpentry of Abbot.
Even though Herrick Construction was the low bidder, both Morin and Gray preferred Bailey Construction and Winter Deep Plowing and Sanding as contractors.
“It was close,” Morin said. “They both had impressive track records, but Seth, I feel, was the better choice. He lives here. He registers all of his equipment here in town. And I’m confident that he would be able to do the job for the entire winter without any problems.”
Gray was also confident the board made the right decision. She believes those who criticized the decision didn’t know how much research the board did prior to making a decision. As the former owner of Tag Traffic Controllers in Guilford, she has worked with some of the contractors who bid on the snow plow contract.
She believed that price was an important component in making a selection, but not the only one.
“I was looking for reliability and a proven track [record] when I made the decision,” Gray said. “It was close between Bailey Construction and Winter Deep Snow Plowing. Stephen Lawson has an outstanding reputation from his work with Farren Bros., and I knew he’d do an outstanding job. But Seth had a little bit better price and he does great work, too, so I voted for Bailey Construction.”
Elderkin succeeds David Eldkerkin, his father and Johnson’s brother, in being awarded Parkman’s snow plowing contract. David Elderkin did not make a bid. Morin stated his decision was made in the best interests of the townspeople and not because Seth Elderkin is related to a selectperson.
“I think of Seth as being Seth, not Pat’s nephew,” Morin said. “He does good work and I’m confident he was the best choice for the town. He has the right equipment and most of it’s new. I don’t foresee any problems with his plowing the snow this winter.”
The snow plow agreement is for a three-year term with a town option for two additional years. The selectmen made plowing the area in the front and back of the municipal building a priority in the new contract as well as requiring that the plow trucks are on the roads before the school buses. The town will also pay the contractor twice a month instead of once at the month’s end.
The selectmen will meet next at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, in the municipal building.