Interim City Manager Ron McLemore defended himself and city staffers after Stephen Bacon alleged costly bungling of rapid-cleanup contracts approved after Hurricane Irma.
The City Council member on Wednesday questioned debris-removal deals negotiated under emergency conditions and approved unanimously by the City Council to protect the public days after the storm ripped across Florida in September.
“That is such a pile of bunk that I don’t even want to answer you,” McLemore told Bacon.
Mayor Bob Garcia defended McLemore, saying Bacon’s recollection of what happened “is not actually correct.”
Other council members remained silent during the heated exchange between Bacon and McLemore.
Wednesday’s showdown marked the lasted flashpoint between Bacon and his colleagues.
Contractors were hard to find in Florida after Irma’s passage. Hurricane Harvey’s damage to Texas ramped up demand.
On Sept. 20, as limbs piled high along DeBary roadways, McLemore offered options for City Council members for the express-debris removal they wanted.
Bacon and the other council members picked the most expensive option – estimated to cost $540,000 – to hire two contractors – Waste Pro and DRC.
DRC got a standard rate negotiated a year before the storm of $7.62 per cubic yard for removal of debris on public roads.
After the storm, as contractors ran to south Florida for higher rates, Waste Pro negotiated a $15.78 cubic yard rate for pickup on private roads.
Storms pinch budget
Initially, the city estimated it would cost $540,000 for all debris pickup. That amount nearly tripled to $1.5 million because Irma downed more trees and limbs than expected.
City officials are trying to get funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for Irma and Hurricane Matthew in 2016 for that could take months or longer.
Those two storms combined cost DeBary taxpayers $1.8 million over two budget years, putting pressure on city finances.
If the hurricanes had not happened, the city’s 2017 general fund would have closed with a $562,000 positive cash flow.
Instead, it had a negative balance of $75,000. Reserves were used to balance the budget.
Bacon blasts costs
As far as costs for Irma, city staffers are still examining the bills and may have a full accounting of the expenditures within the next two weeks.
Bacon said he’s upset because Waste Pro hired a subcontractor and made more than he expected from the city. He thought Waste Pro would make 40 percent of the contract.
The remaining 60 percent, he thought, would go to the cheaper contractor.
“But in actuality, it turned around,” Bacon said. “No one expected that they would find a contractor. Why didn’t we find a contractor that would work for a lower price?”
McLemore reminded Bacon that he, along with other council members, approved the contracts, the city was facing an emergency and contractors were hard to find as two states cleaned up from separate hurricanes.
Then Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico.
There were reports of bidding wars with contractors leaving unfinished jobs to get better-paying ones elsewhere.
“In the situation we were backed up into at that particular time, we couldn’t get people to turn around and come to the city of DeBary on our original agreement. And it had to do with the federal government saying that they could charge the additional money,” Garcia said. “We were the first city to have everything picked up and cleaned up so we did a very very good job as far as that’s concerned.”
‘Premium’ on public safety
Local governments across Florida experienced problems with a shortage of contractors and equipment after Irma.
It hit just two weeks after Harvey slammed Texas.
“You put a premium, this council put a premium, and I agree with you, to get this place cleaned up as quick as possible for public safety,” McLemore said. “We did it. We did in a great way. And we were one of the first to get cleaned up when other people were still trying to get trucks.”
McLemore said Bacon’s concern that the Waste Pro subcontractor didn’t have a performance bond with the city is unfounded. That sub was covered by Waste Pro’s bond and insurance. “This is just a bunch of misinformation and I resent the fact that it’s put out here,” McLemore said.
He said he hasn’t been able to provide a full accounting of all the costs because staffers are finding mistakes on the bills and sending them back to the contractors.
After the charges are checked out, McLemore will make a presentation about the costs to the City Council.
“We have sent these bills back to the company telling them they are incorrect because we are performing the pre-auditing function you should know all about,” McLemore told Bacon, an accountant.
Bacon’s response: “That’s legitimate.”
“Of course it is,” McLemore replied. “Your staff doesn’t sit around twiddling their fingers trying to find something to do. They’re doing what they’re supposed to do, and what they know to do and they’re doing it quite well.”
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