County tries to dispute charge that its bid fumble will cost taxpayers $100,000
Dukes County officials this week rejected criticism from Tisbury of the process by which the county sought bids for fuel oil. In a report last week in The Times, John Bugbee, Tisbury town administrator, speaking at the Nov. 8 town selectmen's meeting, charged that the county's delay in signing a fuel oil contract will cost taxpayers an additional $100,000 in fiscal 2006. He said this week that the county ought to explain to taxpayers why its departure from historical bidding practices has led to increased costs.
In a Nov. 10 Dukes County web site article called "Tisbury Wrong on Fuel Oil Bid," county manager E. Winn Davis wrote that a portion of The Times news report [of Nov. 10] that described Mr. Bugbee's criticism was "incorrect and untrue." He added that the per gallon cost of oil had actually declined between the first bid attempt and the second.
As the county manager described the difference in pricing from the county's first, flawed solicitation of heating oil bids and the second and conclusive bid, which led to a contract, "The first fuel oil bid was for $2.59 per gallon. The second fuel oil bid was $2.54, a savings of 5 cents per gallon."
Mr. Bugbee said this week that he is confident of the analysis that led to his criticisms of the county, despite Mr. Davis's rebuttal. He said Mr. Davis's comparison is misleading.
The fuel oil contract was bid incorrectly by the county in August and then rebid in September. Last week, Mr. Bugbee said he was asked by Tom Pachico, a selectman who was unable to attend the Nov. 8 meeting, to discuss the ramifications for taxpayers of the county's contract fumble. Mr. Bugbee told Ray LaPorte and Tristan Israel, the selectmen in attendance, that the price represented in the contract was significantly higher than it would have been if the bid solicitation and contracting had been done properly and on time. He estimated the bid delays cost taxpayers an additional $100,000.
In an e-mail to The Times, Mr. Davis suggested that the delay in the bid process actually resulted in a savings.
But Mr. Bugbee gave no ground. "I am as confident as I can possibly be," Mr. Bugbee said this week of the analysis on which he based his conclusions.
Historically, Mr. Bugbee said, the county has solicited fuel bids from vendors between April and May, so that by June 1, towns will know what fuel oil costs will be for the new fiscal year that begins each July 1. This year, the first fuel oil bid request did not go out until two months into the new fiscal year, Mr. Bugbee said, with a due date of Sept. 1. Due to an irregularity in the bid process, a second bid request had to be issued, with a due date of Oct. 7.
"The $100,000 is the difference in the cost of fuel from April/May to September/October, multiplied by how much fuel was used under that contract last fiscal year," said Mr. Bugbee. "So we took how much fuel was used under that contract, multiplied it by the increase in cost from April/May to September/October, and that is how we came up with that figure."
Although county officials base their figures solely on the difference in fuel prices from September to October, Mr. Bugbee said, "The problem is, it [the bid] should have been done in May or April, and it wasn't. No explanation has been given to anyone, not us — not the school — no one in the town that I'm aware of. No one seems to know why this bid was not done until September or October. And I think that the taxpayers have a right to know why it's going to cost us an additional $100,000 for fuel."
According to the state office of the Inspector General, all requests for bids must appear as legal advertisements. Last August, Dukes County manager Davis failed to publish an ad requesting bids for the contract to provide fuel oil to Vineyard towns and schools.
Instead, Mr. Davis hand delivered a request for bids to the R.M. Packer Company of Tisbury and called or faxed bid requests to three Falmouth companies, Falmouth Coal, Loud Fuel and PS Ideal Fuel, with a deadline of Sept. 1. Only the R.M. Packer Company responded, submitting a bid on August 31.
The faulty procedure was brought to light by a representative of a fuel oil company interested in submitting a bid. The company official said he did not see a legal ad. At first Mr. Davis blamed the Vineyard Gazette for failing to publish the ad, but he later admitted he could find no record in his own files of what he thought he ordered.
Mr. Davis subsequently sent out a new bid request in late September with a deadline of Oct. 7. R.M. Packer Company was awarded the county contract at a meeting of the Dukes County commissioners on Oct. 26.