House built atop storm drain could be costly for city

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Mark Wineka
A Salisbury home at 612 S. Jackson St. was built over a city storm drainage pipe in 1928.
Now the pipe is crumbling, soil around the pipe is falling away, and the house is settling.
“It’s a threat to the house itself,” said Dan Mikkelson, director of Engineering and Development Services for the city of Salisbury.
The property owners ó Heidi Simmons, Jerry Stevenson and Randy Mullins ó qualify for a storm drainage incentive grant from the city to help defray the costs of a remedy, which will involve rerouting the storm drainage system around the house.
It’s going to be costly. The property owners accepted a base bid of $62,600 for the work, of which the city’s share would be $31,300.
But Salisbury City Councilman Bill Burgin on Tuesday questioned the bidding process and awarding of a contract, especially since significant tax dollars could be appropriated.
Burgin said he wanted to be more comfortable with how the project was bid and negotiated. He acknowledged that one of the bidders had raised questions raised about the process.
Mikkelson said the majority of the drainage work will fall on private property and, because of that, it needs to be done under the control of the owners.
The owners select a contractor who fits their needs the best, Mikkelson said. They are not necessarily required to go with the low bidder, as the city is.
The project sought a base bid with additional enhancements that were bid separately. The private owners would be responsible for the costs of the non-qualifying expenses, Mikkelson said.
The city’s matching participation through the incentive grant program is determined by the base bid, he added.
Under the drainage incentive grant program, the city pays for half the engineering and half of the improvements. All work in the public right of way is the city’s responsibility, while the private property owner pays for any enhancements beyond the basic scope of the work.
Any incentive grant in excess of $5,000 has to have City Council approval ó the reason the council took up the matter Tuesday.
Because $31,000 of taxpayer money is involved, the project should be held to a different standard than the one outlined by Mikkelson, Burgin suggested. The public bidding process that the city follows is a higher standard, he said, adding he was worried about the appearance of this procedure.
Councilman Mark Lewis compared it to having a base bid on a Chevrolet and an enhanced bid on a Cadillac. If the city were being asked to pay half of the base bid on the Chevrolet, then it’s OK, Lewis said.
Burgin said he understood the need for fixing the drainage system, but making sure a bidding standard was followed is important.
Burgin said he would like to know whether the low bid was still the same company chosen when enhancements were added in. Mikkelson said he didn’t have the needed information in front of him, so the council tabled the matter until its next meeting.
“I would rather we all be clear on that and have the information in front of us,” Kluttz said.
Mikkelson noted the practice of building homes on top of city drainage pipes is no longer permitted.