Bloomfield Council to Explore Outsourcing Engineering Department

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The Bloomfield Council agreed to send out Requests for Proposals (RFPs) to engineering firms at Monday night’s council meeting to enable them to compare the costs of maintaining the in-house Engineering Department versus outsourcing the department’s tasks to a consultant.

The governing body had already sent out RFQs (Requests for Qualifications) to several firms, and RFPs will now be sent to those that meet the township’s specifications.

Prior to the vote, Township Engineer Paul Lasek presented a summary of a detailed report he had prepared for the council members, specifying the many tasks and duties performed by his department, which consists of himself, Assistant Municipal Engineer Steve Coppola, and two clerical positions.

Lasek pointed out that their salaries only account for 3/10 of 1% of the municipal budget. He stated that his and Coppola’s salaries translate to a little over $60 per hour each, whereas most engineering consultants charge well over $100 per hour to perform the same duties that they do. In addition, he said, since he and Coppola are on salary, no additional costs are charged to the township for work done during evenings, weekends or on holidays.

Another point to consider, he said, is that their department actually generates income for the township. Steve Coppola is the day-to-day contact for all developments and coordinates with the water and sewer departments as site improvements are made. He also performs inspections of these sites. The costs are billed to the developers’ escrow accounts, and this money is then returned to the township’s coffers, which would not be the case if his department were outsourced to an engineering contractor.

Another concern would be the oversight of invoices submitted by the consultant, Lasek said. Outsourcing the department completely raises the question of who would be looking over the invoices with an unbiased point of view; it would be a conflict of interest for the consultant to review his own invoices.

He also said that he had recently received his water operator’s license, and could take over that function, which is currently being performed by an outside consultant, thus saving the township money.

He finished by saying that, as a Bloomfield resident, he has a vested interest in the township, is a taxpayer himself, and takes pride in his projects.

Councilman Carlos Bernard questioned Lasek about the impasse between Bloomfield and Newark regarding water costs that had lingered over the past 7 years since Lasek had been hired. He asked why it had not been resolved until Township Administrator Ted Ehrenburg was hired and negotiated an agreement. (Bloomfield receives its water through the City of Newark. Newark had originally said that Bloomfield owed the city over $1 million, but the final agreement saved nearly half that amount for the township.)

Lasek said that the situation had been resolved with his help. He explained that prior to Ehrenburg’s arrival, there had been 4 different township administrators over the last 7 years, and Newark’s point person had also changed a number of times, preventing him from moving forward with an agreement.

Councilman Lopez asked if they had any idea how much money outsourcing the department would save. Mayor Venezia said that the estimate was between $200 and $250 thousand, but that they need the hard figures from actual proposals to be able to make accurate comparisons. Including health benefits and pension costs, the Engineering Department currently costs the township about $525,000 annually.

Councilman Joanow said that Lasek’s presentation was compelling, and expressed concern that there would be a loss of continuity and institutional knowledge if the Engineering Department is outsourced to an engineering firm.

In the end, all agreed to go ahead and send out the RFPs so that a full and fair comparison could be performed before making a decision.

In other business, DPW Director Anthony Nesto said they went to the previous recycling vendor, the Occupational Center, and obtained a cost quote of $308,000 a year to go back to utilizing their organization for the township recycling program. This will save $126,000 annually compared to the current vendor. The council agreed to move forward with the change.

Nesto also discussed implementing an Adopt an Island program, which he had proposed previously. After research, he said he had developed three possible scenarios. The one he recommended is to approach local landscapers to participate in a drawing where they would have the opportunity to “own” one of 8 or 9 prominently located islands (such as the one at Spruce and Liberty Streets, Franklin and Broad Streets, etc.).

In exchange for their upkeep and beautification of the property, a sign would be placed on the island with the name of their business and phone number. Councilman Carlos Pomares suggested the signage would need to be coordinated with other signs in town and in the historic district would need approval by the Historic District Review Board.

The council agreed to move forward with developing the program.

The council voted to hire Princeton Hydro as a non-fair and open consultant, to perform research on the Scientific Glass property in preparation for initiating efforts to acquire the property from a developer. Councilmen Pomares and Bernard abstained.

Township Administrator Ted Ehrenburg announced that the Companion Animal Protection Act legislation had been reviewed and is ready for the council to look over.

Councilman Carlos Bernard asked Ehrenburg to finalize policies and procedures for animal shelter volunteers before the next conference meeting on February 18. Ehrenburg agreed, assuming no other tasks supersede it in priority.

Bernard also asked that the township pursue installation of cameras at the animal shelter. Animal Control Officer Mike Spinella explained that they need cameras outside the shelter to capture pictures of anyone who abandons an animal at the shelter after hours, which is illegal. He said other parts of the shelter should be monitored as well. He said volunteers would not be allowed in certain areas when they return to the shelter, so this would be one reason cameras would be helpful.

The council voted to allot funds to renew the Bloomfield Fire Department’s accreditation. The Bloomfield Fire Department is one of only 2 departments in the state that have achieved accreditation, and was the first in the state to do so. The accreditation program is a 5-year-program and the department’s accreditation is running out in 2014. Its benefit is that it forces the township and the department to examine everything they do versus national standards in order to adhere to best practices. Councilman Joanow said that the township should market the fact that our Fire Department is accredited.

The council will also initiate an evaluation by the Township Administrator of the Police Department as preparation for the department participating in an accreditation program for police departments.

Mayor Venezia announced the formation of a Quality of Life Task Force, which will hold its first meeting on Tuesday, February 11, 2014, at 6:30 p.m. in the 2nd floor conference room in the Law Enforcement Building. He said he had received about 35 emails from people interested in participating. For this first meeting, he requested representatives from the Fire, Police, Inspections, Health and Public Works departments to attend. The meeting will be moved to the council chambers if necessary to accommodate the public.

Venezia also requested that each member of the council suggest one person to become part of a committee to evaluate the future of the Public Library. He said that the adult library requires about $800,000 in repairs.

The council voted to pass an ordinance assigning handicapped parking spaces specifically to the resident who requests such a space. This would involve changing the signs and providing placards for the residents to display. Currently any handicapped person can park in a handicapped spot in front of a resident’s house even if they do not live there.

Mayor Venezia announced that Councilman Carlos Bernard will be the new liaison to the Health Department.

The next council meeting will be a special conference meeting to be held at 6 p.m. on Monday, February 3, 2014, in the 2nd floor conference room in the Law Enforcement Building, followed by the regular meeting at 7 p.m. in the Council Chambers. The special meeting will address several items that were deferred from Monday night’s agenda, including appointments by the mayor and council to several boards and commissions.

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5 COMMENTS

  1. Mr. Lasek and I have had some differences- but I doubt that any outside firm could do the job any cheaper – especially with being on-call 24 x 7. And then of course there is continuity- Bloomfield is an old town whose sewers and water system are pretty unique. tHE FACT THAT HE LIVES IN TOWN AND IS AVAILABLE WHEN SOMETHING GOES WRONG- AND IT DOES- IS PRICELESS.

    I would rather see an FORENSIC AUDIT of the HEALTH DEPARMENT, LAW DEPARTMENT,L and POLICE DEPARTMENT. I think we’d save a lot of money in the long term and be better served. – Forget the consultants for OUR INFRASTRUCTURE

  2. Dear Councilman Bernard,

    Cameras, or at least one camera, was installed at the animal shelter gate a few years ago. The camera was trained on the front of the shelter and recorded all comings and goings on a monitor in the shelter’s office. There were a number of other cameras waiting to be installed and the cameras would have been monitored by the security company as part of their daily operations once all of the installations were completed. They never were due to foot dragging by F. Michael Fitzpatrick and Karen Lore. Oh, I forgot to mention one thing: This would all have been done free of charge. Gratis. No cost to the township. Nada.

  3. Nick is right. The department knows where the bodies are buried. How many hours will an outside firm have to burn to find out what the current department already knows? All it takes is one bad decision based on inexperience for an outside firm to cost us more than what the current department costs. Also as already pointed out, you still need an expert engineer on staff to judge if the outside firm is doing the job correctly and billing the township fairly. Outsourcing of skilled positions does not make sense.

    If the town council wants to save the township some chump change, how about ending their tax payer financed health care plans?

  4. MSER is right- it costs Bloomfield taxpayers approx $10,000 per year per part-time Town Councilor to provide health care or a stipend.

    GIVE IT UP!

    a fORENSIC aUDIT OF THE bLOOMFIELD fIRE DEPARTMENT FOUND $250,000.00 OVER A YEAR AND A 1/2 THAT COULD HAVE BEEN SAVED- AUDIT THE POLICE, HEALTH DEPARTMENT AND LAW DEPARTMENT. Stop hiring consultants

  5. I wonder if one or more of Mike’s contributors is part of an engineering consulting firm? Gee, how would we know?

Comments are closed.