Thursday, October 11, 2012
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Prairie Engineers pitches new engineering contracts to city officials

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[October 11, 2012]  When former city engineer Mark Mathon offered his resignation several weeks ago, the Prairie Engineers firm was immediately hired to serve as interim engineers for the city.

The city at that time had a contract for engineering services with American Water's Environmental Management Corp. The city needed to find out if they could get out of that contract. In the end, EMC relinquished the contract, leaving the city free to hire its own engineer.

The interim agreement with Prairie Engineers was that the firm would provide 160 hours per month of service to the city.

Within those 160 hours, they are to represent the city at meetings, attend council meetings, offer project management services and provide administrative services. Forgy said that in the three months they have been serving the city, the firm has averaged 110 hours per month in project management and administration and approximately 50 hours per month in project engineering.

The current contract the city has for an engineer -- the one that would have gone to Mathon for the new year -- specifies that the engineer will provide 1,920 hours of service to the city in a 12-month period. Forgy said he would like to see a new contract that cuts those hours back to 1,040 hours per year.

He said this would just be one engineering contract with the city, and there could be others to accompany it throughout the year.

In the 1,040 hours the engineers would continue with the meeting attendance requirements, work on the capital improvement plan they had proposed for the city, be responsible for putting together an annual budget request for infrastructure projects, review city development plans, and respond to inquiries from city and elected officials on engineering-related issues.

Forgy said he would then propose that there be separate and additional contracts for project engineering and non-repetitive tasks that are not done annually.

He told the council the city could benefit from this type of contract structure in that they would not have to take all the engineering fees out of the general funds as they do now.

He said, for example, if a project is going to be paid for by the infrastructure fund, having a separate contract for the engineer would allow the engineer to also be paid by the infrastructure fund.

Currently a percentage of the engineering is paid by the city's general fund and a percentage by the sewer fund.

Forgy wrapped up his presentation by telling the council that Prairie Engineers' primary goal in presenting this type of proposal is to actually reduce the costs to the city for their engineering work.

When the floor was opened for discussion and questions, several aldermen responded.

Melody Anderson asked about some of the things the previous engineer was doing. She mentioned that the city has a complex phone bill that the previous engineer was overseeing. She asked if the city engineer should really be doing that type of work. Was it something that should perhaps be turned over to the new city manager, when hired?

Forgy said it was not something the engineer would typically do, and yes, it would be good to shift that responsibility to someone else.

Buzz Busby wanted to know if Prairie Engineers would retain ownership of the records and documents relating to city engineering. Forgy said he believed they would retain ownership, but that all the documents would be available for the city if they wanted copies of the originals.

Tom O'Donohue asked how often in the past the city has had to complete changes of orders. Forgy said in recent projects, not at all. However, when looking at the bids for the Lincoln Avenue project, they came up with several changes of orders that would be needed, and those quickly added up to more than $90,000. This is the primary reason the project was not let out for bid this year.

One of the differences between hiring a single engineer and an engineering firm is that a firm has more manpower and more time to perform duties. Forgy said some of the work the firm is proposing to do includes things that Mathon simply did not have time to do within his contract.

This is why, with the larger projects, outside engineers have been hired to do the lion's share of the work on design.

Forgy was asked if there would still be a need for those outside engineers. He said there could be, specifically for the projects the city is hoping to let out for bid in February. He noted that Prairie Engineers might not have the time to get all of those projects designed without outside help.

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O'Donohue asked if they went with this type of contract plan, what control the city would have over the costs.

Mayor Keith Snyder said the individual project contracts would be projected in the annual budget requests. He said Prairie Engineers would present estimated costs for each project at budget time, and the city could then approve the costs and the project, or delay it as they needed to for their budget constraints.

Tracy Jackson, superintendent of streets and alleys, asked if the engineers would be responsible for the motor fuel tax reporting and audit.

Forgy said they would, but it would be under a separate contract that is put out by the Illinois Department of Transportation. He said this is a prescribed contract, and the fees are determined by IDOT. He added this could be good for the city as well, because IDOT's fees are pretty low.

Anderson asked if that was a job the city administrator could do. Forgy said it is possible, but not a common practice.

Anderson then offered her opinion of the proposal, saying she was more comfortable with the separation than when it was first brought up. She said Forgy's presentation had made it all much more clear to her. She commented that when the city had previously gone to an outside engineering firm, the council had never really known how that need was determined.

Marty Neitzel then asked if the council was ready to put something on the agenda, and all seemed to agree that they were.

Snyder said the motion would be to revise the current engineering project management contract from 1,920 hours per year to 1,040 hours per year.

David Wilmert then wondered if that cut was too much. He said he didn't want the city to lose services because the engineers run out of hours.

Forgy said he didn't believe that would happen. He also added that Prairie Engineers has in the past exceeded their hours by a little bit, and it is not something they are concerned about.

"In the three months we've been doing this, I'm not 100 percent comfortable we can get it all," Forgy said, "but I'm comfortable enough that we can proceed this way."

Forgy also said if something came up that is unexpected right now, the situation might have to be revisited. He cited as an example, if IDOT comes up with a large-scale project for the high-speed rail and the engineers have to study and evaluate it, they might have to come back and ask for more hours, providing IDOT wouldn't pay for those services out of their budget.

Neitzel asked if the contract Forgy is proposing would include annual increases in fees. Forgy said that obviously he doesn't want to be working for the same dollars five years from now as he is today, but if the contract is annual, it is something that can be discussed on a year-to-year basis. He said if the contract were a longer-term, multiyear contract, he would want to have escalation rates built into the contract.

Snyder asked about the five-year capital improvement plan the engineers are working on and when it would be finished. Forgy said the plan is moving along, and he hopes to have something to the council within the next month.

As the discussions wound down, O'Donohue noted that the rate per hour for the firm had increased over the interim agreement. Forgy said the interim agreement had included the use of summer interns in the firm, making the cost less. In the new agreement, summer interns are not being considered. He said what was being considered was a broad spectrum of staff, including administrative staff who will deal with paperwork and engineers who will deal with specific details of a project.

With the discussions concluded, the motion that will be on next week's agenda will be a question as to whether or not the city should change the engineering program management contract hours from 1,920 to 1,040.


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