Not only are the Schuylkill County Commissioners squeezing out small businesses in the area from receiving aid grants from the CARES Act fund, they’re finding another way to stick it to countless more businesses.
On Wednesday, Schuylkill County Commissioners defended not putting a contract out to bid to install new touchless water fountains at 3 government buildings.
It’s the latest questionable purchase by Commissioners using money from the $12.7 million CARES Act fund. And it’s the latest in a growing number of no-bid awards using this money.
But the big question is, why aren’t any of these projects being put out for bids?
No-Bid Contracts from Schuylkill Commissioners Stick It to Local Small Businesses
To use the CARES Act funding, the County has to prove that purchases are directly related to the COVID pandemic or promote public safety. Normally, when a government agency buys something, they put it out for bids. That’s a way of finding a deal that’s in the best interest of the County financially.
But since this is pandemic spending, it’s technically considered an emergency. So, the Commissioners are using that as an excuse to forgo bid contracts and just award projects to anyone they please. That leaves out untold businesses in Schuylkill County who could potentially submit a more suitable and fiscally responsible bid to Commissioners.
Sure, the same company that was already awarded the contract could actually submit the winning bid after all, but not taking the time to find out is irresponsible and a detriment to the businesses not getting a chance to bid and, of course, the taxpayer.
“Pure and Simple”
The County defended its right to do so on Wednesday at the latest Schuylkill Commissioners meeting.
Commissioners formally voted 2-0 to give a $21,750 contract to Antz Energy Systems, Shenandoah, to install 15 Elkay Touch-Free Water Coolers/Drinking Fountains. Antz was recently awarded a contract about 10-times that size two weeks ago to install touch-free toilets and sinks at County-owned buildings, too. And again with that one, no bid was requested.
Now, don’t hold it against Antz. They got the contract and bully for them. But no other company that could offer the same service had a chance to bid on it. This company isn’t the only game in town, as it were, and getting government contracts can be a nice boost to any small business.
But because of COVID and the County’s rigid stance that it doesn’t have to put these contracts out for bid, only a select group of businesses is getting in on the CARES Act action.
“That was a public works project directly related to COVID and directly related to public safety,” County Administrator Gary Bender told Commissioners and the public during Wednesday’s meeting. “It did not require bidding, pure and simple.”
Again, just because something doesn’t require a bid, doesn’t mean you can’t put it out for bid.
This project is hardly an emergency. It extends until April 15, 2021. And the Commissioners have been sitting on this CARES Act money since late June, when it publicly announced how much Schuylkill County got from the state.
In that time, the County has been dishing out these no-bid projects left and right and has spent or agreed to spend at least $7 million so far. That’s $7 million in no-bid contracts. Perhaps, the County could have saved significantly if it had put these no-bid, no-rush projects out for bid. But instead, they’re using COVID as a cover to keep awarding contracts without accepting bids … pure and simple.
What’s a Company Gotta Do Around Here … ?
Even if there’s not anything strange happening with these project awards and these deals are above board, there’s definitely more than a whiff of suspicion among the public.
The Commissioners have heard critiques of their CARES Act spending for months now, especially how they’ve failed to publicly announce a small business grant program, but on Wednesday, they heard from a new voice … well, a new writer.
During the first Public Comment session held where Commissioners Chair Boots Hetherington read aloud submitted written comments, the board heard a sharp criticism by a person named Brent Jones, of Klingerstown.
Commenters, per the Board’s rules, are required to give a name and municipality with their written comments in order to have them heard at a public meeting. So, we’ll assume this person is real. Boots OK’d it and read it, so he must believe it’s a real person.
“Why was no one else given an opportunity to be given this contract? I could have done this job for much less than what you’re paying,” Jones contended. “Do I need to make a donation to someone’s campaign down there to know what job or projects are being done?”
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