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The public bidding process that cities must follow is necessary to insure that public funds are spent in the most efficient manner possible. That’s why City of Minot officials welcome the transparency and scrutiny that comes with the open bidding process.
City Engineer Lance Meyer said the bidding process follows guidelines established in North Dakota State Century Code, which means any public infrastructure project with a total cost of more than $150,000 must go through the bidding process. The type of project doesn’t matter, whether it’s a building, a road project, or a sewer project. If it exceeds $150,000, it must go through the bid process.
“We have to advertise the bid in the official newspaper once each week for three weeks before we accept bids,” Meyer said. “We also have to advertise in a second source, such as a trade publication or an online bid service. We use Quest Construction Data Network, an online bidding service.”
Companies must meet several requirements when submitting bids:
If all requirements aren’t met, the sealed bids aren’t even opened.
“We want the lowest responsive and responsible bid, but they have to meet all the requirements. If the bid meets all the requirements and is the low bid, we accept it,” said Meyer. “The statute requires you to take the lowest responsive and responsible bid.”
Ultimately, the Minot City Council holds the final authority on accepting or rejecting bids.
“Whatever project we’re taking bids on, the Council has the option to reject all bids. Typically, that can happen if all bids come in over budget,” Meyer said. “Also, the Council cannot reject a bid and award to the next lowest bidder without a valid reason. That means the Council must show that the lowest bidder is not responsive or responsible.”
Jason Sorenson, assistant director of Public Works, is also familiar with the public bidding process. Not only is Sorenson involved in many construction projects, but he also works with several other items that must be put out for bid, too.
“Any time we purchase equipment, if it meets the required dollar amount, we are required to publicly advertise our bids, and anyone with a product that meets the specifications can bid on it,” Sorenson said. “It’s a very open and transparent process.”
Substances that are added to the municipal water supply during the treatment process at the Minot Water Treatment Plant, including lime, chlorine, and ammonium sulfate, among other items.
“We view these as equipment purchases, essentially,” Sorenson said. “If the chemicals are over $15,000, we have to go out for competitive bids Most of those bids are done on an annual basis, and the contract is for one year.”
Not all projects in the City are public projects. There are many developers who complete private projects, but the City is still actively engaged in all aspects of those developments.
“In a private project, developers will build their infrastructure to the City’s specifications or we don’t accept the work, especially when it comes to utility projects, like water or sewer,” Meyer said.
In those instances, the developer will hire a consulting engineer to provide full-time inspection and testing services. “The City will do periodic inspections, too, but it’s the job of the consulting engineer to provide us with all the data we need.”
The role of consulting engineers in construction projects – both public and private – is one that Meyer thinks is often misunderstood.
“There is no contractual relationship between the contractor and the consulting engineer. The City selects to the consulting engineer to be an extension of our staff because we don’t have the manpower to handle the requirements of a large project,” he said.
The Downtown Infrastructure Improvement project is a good example, Meyer said.
“Our consultant’s role was to make sure the contractor followed the project guidelines and to ensure the project was built to proper specifications,” Meyer said. “They report directly back to us, but they don’t actually manage the contractor or subcontractors.”
Another key role of the consulting engineer is to provide accurate documentation for the work done on a project. For instance, on a project replacing underground water or sewer lines, the consulting engineer is responsible for tracking how much pipe went into the ground, when it went into the ground, how it went into the ground, and virtually every other detail of the work.
“These days, should something happen that ends in litigation, the side with the best documentation usually wins,” Meyer said. “That’s a big part of the consulting engineer’s responsibility.”