The October 2020 Board of Supervisors Meeting was an interesting one in many respects. From the semi-live meeting, to the technical difficulties, to the canned comments from the public via e-mail.
In this meeting, citizens were allowed to ask questions and/or make comments in person at the township building, but the supervisors attended from their homes, with the exception of Mark McKee, who participated from a conference room in the township building. Police Chief Donnelly was the door man for the meeting, ensuring that no more than 12 people at a time could enter the building. There was a technical issue early in the public comment section as someone forgot to plug in the microphone, which caused their questions to not be held by the public. But the supervisors could hear those questions and did respond. Once discovered, this problem was corrected in short order. Obviously, masks and social distancing was enforced for anyone who entered the building. Although, if you looked close enough, the multiple roaches that were walking around the meeting room did not appear to be wearing masks. Maybe someone should call an exterminator.
The meeting got off to an interesting start with the Land Use agenda items. One item was the awarding of the two bids for the Community Park projects. Normally, the supervisors make a motion, discuss the item among the supervisors, and then take comments/questions from the public. This time, the item was announced, and it was mentioned that the lowest bidders were disqualified due to not meeting all the requirements of the Responsible Contractor Ordinance (RCO). This was followed by a motion to award the bid to the highest bidders. It then went directly to public comments. Even though there was no mention of the RCO (Responsible Contractor Ordinance) on the agenda, the first 10 e-mailed comments all had a familiar ring, with more than half being the same. They read…. “My name is and I live at and I support the RCO for the Warminster Park project.” Hmmm… Why would this many people write the exact same comment for an item that was not even on the agenda? Can you say, “Orchestrated Political Theater?” The other half of the e-mailed comments went off script, but also supported the RCO for the park projects. Once again, there was no mention of the RCO on the agenda, yet this many people somehow knew that the lowest bidders would be disqualified for not meeting all the elements of the RCO.
There were a couple of pointed live questions regarding the awarding of these bids.
What part of the RCO requirements did the lowest bidders not meet in their bid? – This question was not answered. The board chairman stated that the disqualified contractors asked that the reason(s) not be disclosed. You would think that something that is going to cost the taxpayers an additional $275,000, the taxpayers would have a right to know why.
What was the difference in cost between the lowest bidder and the bid that was awarded? – There were two parts to this response. The additional cost for the DCNR project will be $68,924 and the additional cost for the RACP project will be $205,925, for a total of nearly $275,000. This additional cost, along with the additional costs for having to have two separate bidding processes is what the RCO has cost the township just for this one project. But it seems the taxpayers will not be told the specific reason we have to pay an additional $275,000 for these projects.
Will any features of the project be removed due to the additional cost involved with awarding to the highest bidders? – The chair and the township manager said no features would be removed due to the additional costs associated with awarding to the highest bidders. But, those costs, as well as the additional engineering costs will be added to the township debt. More on this later.
Back to the RCO, which was not on the agenda but was discussed throughout this portion of the meeting. There were no waivers considered for this project because as Ken Hayes said, “Waivers are handed out like Halloween candy.” He went on to talk about the issues the CSD has had with the high school building. But the high school is a physical structure that is used by children, teachers and staff every day. The park project has no real structures, other than a small pavilion. The bulk of the project is literally moving dirt around, installing some lights, a parking lot and a fence. The lowest bidder who did not get the award committed to ensuring that all his sub-contractors were qualified union tradesmen. But there is no wiggle room with the supervisors, and as a result, it will cost the township (taxpayers) $275,000.
The purchase of Shenandoah Woods was also authorized, along with a settlement to the Aldie Foundation. The cost of Shenandoah Woods is $1 million, which includes only the purchase price for the property. The demolition of the existing housing on that property will also need to be done, but there is no estimate of how much that will cost. The supervisors stated that there is currently no soil contamination, so that is a relief. But we are interested in finding out how much it will cost to reclaim that land as open space for the township. As for the settlement with the Aldie Foundation, it seems as though the Navy originally promised that organization a portion of that property and later decided to sell the entire property to the township. This caused Aldie to file a lawsuit against the Navy and the township. It was decided that the township would pay Aldie $175,000 to drop their suit.
Finally, there was a discussion regarding financing for the Park Projects as well as Shenandoah Woods. The supervisors approved of a plan to take out a General Obligation Note (GON) of $8.5 million. This is a draw down loan, which means the township takes money as needed and only pays principal and interest on the amounts that were “drawn down” over a 24-month period. For example, if it is decided that only $2 million of the $8 million is needed (unlikely), the township will only pay back the principal and interest on that $2 million. The $8.5 million amount is the maximum that the township can draw down. Keep in mind that this loan is expected to fund the purchase of Shenandoah Woods ($1 million), the payoff to the Aldi Foundation ($175,000), anything the park project grants don’t cover (about $1 million), including the additional $275,000 that was added due to the highest bidder being selected, the additional costs associated with reclaiming that property as open space as well as the additional engineering costs associated with having to hold two bidding session, again due to the RCO. At this time, the last two items are unknown.
The impact of all this spending will be discussed in a later posting when we go over the tax increases you can expect for 2021. As a preview, you can expect your 2021 municipal taxes to be nearly 75% higher in 2021 than they were in 2019. Oh, this doesn’t include the additional taxes/fees that will be added to your water bill once the WMA decides how to pay back the $6 million they paid the township for the storm water system, or the estimated $5 million in unfunded federal government mandates to upgrades to that system. It is going to be a lot more expensive to live in Warminster Township with the current board of supervisors running the show.