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Ironton City Council debating lower bidding requirement

Should the mayor and city department heads accept bids for purchases over $5,000?

That’s the question the Ironton City Council is debating. The council’s finance committee discussed the issue at its meeting Thursday evening.

A proposed ordinance would lower the city’s bidding requirement from $25,000 to $5,000. The council had first reading of the ordinance at its regular meeting Nov. 8.

At Thursday’s meeting, Councilman Bob Cleary, one of the proposed ordinance’s sponsors, said the ordinance would save the city money.

“I think bidding out for service has a definite advantage for getting the very best price possible,” Cleary said.

The current requirement of $25,000 is part of a 2008 ordinance that raised the bidding requirement from $5,000.

Cleary argued that the ordinance was enacted to make way for several projects like the new water tower and the hospital site cleanup that are complete now.

Besides Cleary, Councilmen Dave Frazer, Frank Murphy and Councilwoman Beth Rist sponsored the ordinance.

Councilman Kevin Waldo argued that ordinance concerns minuscule portions of the city’s $16 million budget and accused its sponsors of trying to take away the mayor’s authority.

“If (Mayor) Rich (Blankenship) was … or not getting it done then that’s a way to get it under control,” Waldo said.

Friday, Cleary rejected the idea that he was trying to challenge the mayor’s authority.

“Absolutely not,” he said during an interview with The Tribune. “I’m not trying to take away any authority from anybody.”

Frazer, who wasn’t at the meeting but spoke with The Tribune Friday, also denied trying to challenge the mayor.

“I’m just trying to make the city more responsible for its financial situation,” Frazer said.

Blankenship opposes the ordinance and addressed the committee Thursday evening.

“This ordinance basically ties the hands of the administration and creates longer delays and increased costs for the city,” Blankenship said, reading from a prepared statement. “That was the reason it was changed in 2008. The citizens of Ironton will be the ones who suffer if this ordinance passes.”

The bidding process takes up to 12 weeks from start to finish, Blankenship said. The mayor also argued that the bidding process would increase city costs in legal advertising and office supplies.

The current ordinance requires the city to receive no fewer than three estimates for projects under $25,000.

“We have checks and balances in place before anything is purchased or projects awarded,” Blankenship said. “I check the budget as well as check with the finance director before purchasing or awarding a project. These awards have already been appropriated by city council in the city budget.”

Blankenship also argued that the ordinance should have a clause allowing the mayor to purchase items without bidding in the case of an emergency.

Cleary agreed, saying he didn’t know why the ordinance was written without one.

“It has to be there, absolutely,” Cleary said Friday. “There’s no doubt. You cannot go out to bid for every emergency.”

Frazier said a previous ordinance that established the bidding requirement at $5,000 had no emergency clause.

Cleary and Frazer disagreed with how the mayor handled an emergency purchase last year. Both suggested that the city could have saved the city money last year by bidding out the purchase of backflow prevention valves that were given to residents with flooding problems.

The city gave out valves that ranged from $2,000 to $6,000 each and then went to bid for more. The bidding lowered the price, Cleary said.

Frazer said that even in emergency situations the mayor should consult with council before purchases.

“I’m just trying to get us back on our feet,” Frazer said. “I think we’re too far in debt.”

Cleary also pointed out that the mayor would still have purchasing power, but with a smaller amount of money.

“I think an open checkbook for $25,000 is entirely too much buying power without going to bid,” Cleary said, adding that $5,000 might be too low.

Besides the mayor, several city department heads including Police Chief Jim Carey, Fire Chief Tom Runyon, Waste Water Superintendent John Haskins, Recreation Director Brett Thomas also spoke in opposition of the bidding requirement change.

The next meeting of the Ironton City Council is at the city center at 6 p.m. Monday, when it will likely hear the second reading of the ordinance.