State regs frustrate small builders
State regulations frustrate town officials and Island contractors by effectively eliminating local tradesmen from town sponsored building projects.
In almost all town projects, state grants or loans help fund the building. If state money is used, the state's Division of Capital Asset Management (DCAM) must certify all contractors.
Contractors and sub-contractors must meet a long list of requirements related to licensing, experience with large projects, financial examination, and insurance bonding.
In Chilmark, town officials have organized a workshop with DCAM administrators and insurance experts to help local contractors get certified to bid on the town's Middle Line affordable housing project.
"We have all these people unemployed, it seems crazy to have off-Island contractors," said Chilmark executive secretary Tim Carroll. "It seems kind of foolish to send the money off-Island when we're trying to build affordable housing."
Mr. Carroll has helped to organize an August 27 workshop, beginning at 7 pm at Chilmark town hall. Contractors are invited to learn the process of getting DCAM certified from the people who make the rules.
Chilmark selectmen will also consider splitting the three-duplex Middle Line Road development into three separate projects with lower individual costs. That could allow local contractors and sub-contractors to get certified at a level that would allow them to bid on the Middle Line project.
Edgartown selectman Art Smadbeck Jr. applauds Chilmark's effort. "If some of our local contractors learn how to do it, the benefits will accrue to us," he said. "If we have local guys bidding, we're going to be able to do it at reasonable prices."
Mr. Smadbeck said the state regulations added to the cost and delayed the completion of a town project to build a new fire station on Chappaquiddick. "It's draconian, it's terrible," he said. "It doesn't do anybody any good."
Edgartown officials had to return to town meeting to secure additional funding for the Chappy fire station, because the only bidder was an off-Island contractor who submitted a bid far higher than expected. "We costed it out, figuring we would get local contractors," Mr. Smadbeck said.
In Oak Bluffs, the project to convert the town's old library into three affordable housing units and a retail store is a case study in frustration for local officials and contractors. The town raised approximately $900,000 for the project from state and federal grants, as well as local Community Preservation Act funds. But when sealed bids were opened, they ranged from $1.3 million to $1.6 million. All were from off-Island contractors. The affordable housing committee had little choice but to reject all bids. Committee chairman Ron DiOrio said the committee was disappointed that no local contractors submitted bids.
"These guys are hurting," Mr. DiOrio said. "It makes no sense to anyone on the committee to have a truck from Falmouth or Boston come down to do the job, when our people are out of work."
Vineyard Haven builder John Jones, of John Jones Construction, successfully secured DCAM certification specifically to bid on the Oak Bluffs library project, only to find that the state would only certify him to bid on projects of $650,000 or less. That left him out of the mix.
"It cost me about $3,000," Mr. Jones said. "It took us three to four months of paperwork and money. The paperwork would make your head swim." He said there are numerous government projects under way that cost local taxpayers more, because contractors have to figure in the cost of transporting and housing workers, as well as transporting and storing equipment and materials.
"I can compete with that guy every day of the week," Mr. Jones. "But I can't even get an appointment to talk. The certifications make a lot of sense, but the way they're geared now, it's geared for off-Island Boston firms that do nothing but government work."
Oak Bluffs is taking a new approach. The town is trying to amend the terms of its grants to allow Vineyard Haven based The Resource, Inc. (TRI) to manage the library project. "We are optimistic that the state is going to allow us to have TRI do the construction bidding process," Mr. DiOrio said. "It then does not require the local contractors who are interested in bidding on the job to be DCAM certified."