A contract with an out-of-town firm for design of a sewer project raised questions Monday night about not giving the work to local firms.

City staff proposed a contract with Burns and McDonnell Engineering Co. of Kansas City for $538,945 for design of a project to build a second sewer line at the Tin Cup Parallel Force Main near Glendale Road and McClelland Boulevard.

That firm was hired to build the city's hydraulic model that identifies locations within the sewer system where renovations are needed to prevent blockages and other problems. The company also is conducting a current study that the city will use to set sewer rates later this year for the next five years of sewer service to customers.

Council member Phil Stinnett led off discussion of the proposed contract by saying he was "troubled by this one." He said he had received telephone calls from three residents expressing concern about paying out-of-town firms to do work that could be done by local firms. He said he thought it would be more expensive to hire an out-of-town firm rather than a local one.

David Hertzberg, the city's public works director, said that a local firm also is working on the project. About 20% of the contract price will go to that local firm. He described it as a team project.

Stinnett said he would hope that the next city manager would look at how the city evaluates qualified-based contracting. He said he knows Burns and McDonnell will do a good project but that "I just want every dollar to go local" where possible.

Hertzberg told the council that when "there is that capability, we go that way."

Council member Ryan Stanley said he shared some of Stinnett's sentiments. He said a three-year-old request for proposals was used and asked if there was thought given to issuing a new request for qualifications. He said using a qualification-based system versus taking bids is more subjective but it brings quantifiable results. Stanley asked why not open up a job to solicit a broader pool of applicants.

The project involves designing a second sewer line for the main so that service can be switched to one line or the other when maintenance is being done, which would eliminate backups when the current sole line is shut down for service. If the project entailed installing a smaller size pipe, a local firm could have been contracted for the entire job, the public works director said.

Mayor Gary Shaw said he does not disagree with using local firms when possible, but the work likely would be more expensive had a new request for proposals been issued because costs have gone up since three years ago.

While several out-of-town firms have been hired for disaster recovery work because of the need for a number of contractors to do the projects, Stinnett said he would like the city to return to local preference.

The council approved the contract with the Burns and McDonnell firm by a majority vote of 7-2 with Stinnett and Stanley casting the "no" votes.

The council also approved two other contracts for sewer system work.

One was a contract for $517,025 with G&G Construction Inc. to improve twin equalization basins at the site of the original Shoal Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant. The purpose of the project is to equip two water retention ponds so that they could be drained when heavy rains are expected so that they do not overflow with rain water that chokes the city's sewer system in times of storms, according to Lynden Lawson, the assistant public works director for operations.

The project also should alleviate odor that has come from the plant by repairing equipment that had been inoperable in the retention ponds, Lawson told the council.

Also authorized was a $178,400 contract with D&E Plumbing and Heating Inc. to replace a sewer line at 44th Street and Virginia Avenue.

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