Clallam County delays vote on Port Angeles paving project design amid business concerns

By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — A routine design project has sparked a conversation among Clallam County officials about the role of the private sector in shared government efforts to be efficient.

County commissioners Tuesday postponed a vote on a proposed agreement with the city of Port Angeles that would hire the county road department to design a city paving project for West 18th and South N streets.

The three commissioners agreed to shelve the item after a private engineer and private surveyor complained about the appropriateness of the county performing the $50,000-maximum design work.

City withdraws request

County Administrator Jim Jones announced late Wednesday afternoon that the city was no longer asking the county to design the project.

Nevertheless, commissioners will have a “future policy discussion” about the issues that arose from Tuesday's board meeting, Jones said.

At Tuesday's meeting, Steve Zenovic, co-owner of Zenovic & Associates, a Port Angeles-based civil engineering firm, said: “This item concerns me because I don't believe it's the appropriate place for the county to be the engineer for the city.”

Board Chairman Mike Chapman asked Jones to meet with city officials to determine how the city intends to use in-house county services in the future.

“I'm all for intergovernmental cooperation, but honestly, I think this is the canary in the coal mine,” Chapman said.

“The next thing you know, we're basically going to be an arm of city government, and we're going to freeze out the private sector.”

Chapman said he thought that the city approached the county because no local company bid the project.

“I had no clue that they just bypassed the private sector,” Chapman said.

“To me, that's a real problem.”

Interlocal agreement

Clallam County has a longstanding interlocal agreement with the city and nine other public entities to consolidate resources on small projects to get the best use of taxpayer money, Jones said.

Under policy, any project of more than $50,000 must go out to bid.

“The overriding issue is we all have an obligation to our taxpayers and our citizens to maximize our resources,” Jones said earlier Wednesday.

“We're looking for ways that we can share stuff so that we don't have to duplicate each other's expertise.”

Work on 18th, N streets

County Engineer Ross Tyler said the city approached the county more than a year ago about designing the repairs to 18th and N streets.

The city plans to repair and repave about 1.8 miles of West 18th Street from L Street to the entrance of the Port Angeles Regional Transfer Station, and N street from 18th to 16th streets, according to the voided agreement.

The work was scheduled to be completed by June 1.

“Right now, certainly it's not going to adversely affect my engineering staff to sit on it for a week,” Tyler said in the Tuesday meeting.

Jones on Wednesday said the city will design the project itself or hire a private contractor.

The city and county regularly share information technology support and expertise in a variety of areas.

Clallam County engineered a Valley Street project for the city in 2010, Jones said.

The county also maintains city police vehicles at its road shop.

Zenovic, whose firm has designed numerous projects for Port Angeles and Clallam County, prefaced his remarks by saying he has a “very strong, positive working relationship” with both entities.

“I appreciate the work that you do provide for the local community,” Zenovic said, adding that the private sector was not aware of the 18th Street project.

“We feel that it shouldn't be your policy to be doing those kinds of jobs when there's a private sector out there that is very involved in the community, giving a lot back to your community and would really appreciate the work.”

'Tough, tough issue'

Jones, Tyler and all three commissioners said they understood and respected Zenovic's concerns.

“It's just a tough, tough issue,” Jones told commissioners.

“We are required, as we always are, to figure out the best way to get the most value. It is a very political issue, and it's therefore in your guy's court way more than it is really in staff's court.”

Commissioner Mike Doherty said he would favor a policy that weighs efficiencies with a variable to determine the best use of taxpayer dollars.

“Taxpayers would like the best quality for the cheapest money,” Doherty said.

Doherty asked Jones to consult with other county administrators about the issue at an upcoming administrator's conference in Leavenworth.

Commissioner Jim McEntire asked for more information about the county's policy on in-house contracts.

He and Doherty said they likely would have approved the agreement Tuesday if there were a pressing deadline.

“If the money was going to explode and burst into flames or something in the next couple of weeks, I'd probably want to just move this ahead,” McEntire said Tuesday.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: March 12. 2014 7:51PM
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