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My Turn: City officials unfairly insulted contractors

With my 40-plus years of experience in roadway design and construction as background, I was totally embarrassed for contractors F. L. Merrill and E. D. Swett after hearing the comments made by the mayor and mayor pro tem during the Concord City Council meeting Tuesday evening.

They both implied the contractors were gouging the city when they used the words “ripped off” after expressing dismay about contractor bid items being higher by a factor of several times over their engineer’s estimate.

The term “risk” was used earlier by the city consultant and city engineer as one reason the bid prices were so disparate.

Perhaps the phrase “degree of difficulty” would have made it easier for the mayor and mayor pro tem to understand the problem. For example, a piece of granite curb would cost locally about the same for any contractors to buy. No rip-off there.

But how, when, where, how many and under what conditions, complications and controls does that piece of granite curb have to be installed is what causes the base price to increase.

The contractors did not create the degree of difficulty. The requirements in the city’s bid package caused the escalation.

Contractors try to beat out their competitors by submitting the lowest competitive bid and winning a contract. They do not know how many others they will be competing against, so they try to keep their prices as low as they can, hopefully make a modest profit and, at the worst, not risk losing their shirt.

Further, based on what has happened to this point, does anyone believe that if a second bid had been submitted in either the first or second round of bidding that it would have been low enough below the one submitted to have saved the day?

I doubt it and, actually, a second bid could even have been higher!

F. L. Merrill and E. D. Swett were publicly insulted, and a public apology is in order.

(Gil Rogers lives in Bow.)

Legacy Comments6

Thank you Gil, WELL SAID!

A very solid letter but what do you expect from inexperienced, amateur, unprofessional politicians who don't understand the real world or have a smidgeon of understanding of economics or the business world.

I have known Frank Merrill and some of the cast of characters at Swett for a long time, as well as quite a few other NH contractors. I have great respect for all of them. Earth moving is a real high stakes game with very expensive toys required to play in the sand box. Gil is absolutely correct in his assessment of the situation. Everyone pays the same for a foot of granite curb, a ton of asphalt, a foot of pipe, or a yard of gravel. The variable the City of Concord has cranked into this, and perhaps was missed by their consulting and in-house engineers is how many times do you have to handle the given quantity and how many times do you have to move in and out of the same block before the job is done. Time is money, and wasted time is more money. Bid the job on a get in and get out the fastest way you can basis and you will see this project done in less time and for a lot less money. The contractors who bid this job are not crooks: They are business folks who are simply trying to do the best job while remaining solvent and feeding themselves and their employees. We need them to remain in business, so they will be there for the next job. The City of Concord owes them an apology.

I see now...I went back and re read the story..."“I hope you’re successful in coming back with something that looks much like what we have today that is coming in at a much more reasonable cost,” Mayor Jim Bouley said to city staff. “We’re not going to be ripped off,” he added. Thats interesting..I bet there are many taxpayers in Concord saying that very same thing..

I must have missed the "ripped off" comment...where and how was it used??

Pointed and accurate comments Gil. The road contractor list in NH is not that long, when the city starts negotiating during round three, my guess is there are not that many reputable contractors who will want to take that risk, day or night, especially after elected officials and administrators make derogatory comments regarding past bids. The upside is if there are no bidders during round three, hopefully the project goes away and efforts can be made to complete the Langley parkway, however that project would need leadership from green street.

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