The complex project to replace the Ferry Street sewage pump station just got trickier.
Just seconds before the Schenectady City Council was set to pick a company to run the project, an engineer from McDonald Engineering stood up to accuse city officials of bias.
Professional engineer Tom Bates said the city unfairly chose MJ Engineering, the low bidder.
City officials interviewed two of the bidders — lowest and highest — but did not interview the middle bidder, McDonald Engineering, he said. “Our price was second-lowest, but we were skipped over for an interview,” he said.
He argued that an interview could have brought to light the fact that his firm budgeted for 32 weeks of work, vs. MJ Engineering’s 12 weeks.
Council members then voted 3-3 on whether to hire MJ Engineering. The contract now goes back to committee for more discussion.
The council also deferred on taking any steps regarding a casino, making it an unusual night of non-action.
Some council members said they didn’t want to vote on the pump house contract at all, but the item had already been moved and seconded.
“I feel like I’ve been presented with some new information,” Councilwoman Marion Porterfield said. “I think there’s some valid concerns here.”
Councilman Vince Riggi said he was also startled to learn that McDonald Engineering offered an alternate design in which the existing pump house could be saved for one-third the cost of building new.
Riggi said he wanted to know more.
“They’re telling us the pump house doesn’t have to be replaced,” he said. “I think we should look at this again.”
But Council President Margaret King said she was confident the right bidder was recommended by city officials.
“I feel the process was followed,” she said, adding that she didn’t want to spend much time revisiting the issue.
“This is a precarious situation,” she said, referring to the pump house’s current vulnerability to flooding.
The pump house was badly damaged by flooding when Tropical Storm Irene hit the area in 2011. City officials said the foundation slipped a slight amount — less than an inch — and might slip much more in a future flood.
They proposed building a new pump house behind the existing building, and finding a community use for the old building.
In other business, the council was set to take a procedural step on the casino proposal but decided not to take action yet.
The council had planned to ask the Schenectady Planning Commission to review the zoning at the former Alco plant and make a recommendation regarding changes that might be necessary for a casino.
But King took the item off the agenda, saying there was “no urgency” because no would-be casino operator had even presented a formal plan.
Residents also spoke at two public hearings, discussing a proposed moratorium on new convenience stores and the proposed spending plan for the $3.3 million Consolidated Plan, including the Community Development Block Grant.
On the moratorium, leaders of 10 city neighborhoods told the council they wanted solutions to problems convenience stores can bring to their communities.
“Our members have expressed concerns about both the proliferation and saturation of convenience stores,” said Robert Harvey, president of Schenectady United Neighborhoods.
He cited problems with littering, loitering and illegal activity leading to repeated police calls.
Resident P.D. Voorhis spoke up in defense of convenience stores, saying they were all being unfairly accused of crime. “If they are corrupt, they are out of business because the police have caught them and did their jobs,” she said.
The discussion of how to spend the $3.3 million in the Consolidated Plan included some debate over whether to significantly change the way the money is distributed.
Currently, more than half of the funds go to city employees’ salaries.
The Rev. Stacey Midge said more of it should go to supporting nonprofits and groups helping children. She proposed cutting back on code enforcement and demolition.
The Rev. Phil Grigsby, executive director of Schenectady Inner City Ministry, suggested the council not bother using $426,000 to pave half a mile of road, and instead use it for demolition. City officials were dismayed to learn recently that their HUD loan for demolition could not be used on the many buildings already seized by the city. The Consolidated Plan is also administered by HUD, but is a grant, not a loan, and could be used for demolition of city-owned properties.
“With $426,092, the city could take down 20 to 25 houses, and perhaps more with contracting, and do more than pave a relatively short street,” he said.
He also called for slightly less money to be spent on code enforcement and police to pay for a $30,000 energy-efficiency project at the Hamilton Hill Arts Center.
“The improvements are very much needed and would cut future costs for the program,” he said.
The council plans to vote in two weeks on the spending plan and the convenience store moratorium.