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Bidding error may cost county taxpayers thousands

July 11, 1997

By STEVEN T. DENNIS

Staff Writer

Public Works Director Gary Rohrer said he's responsible for a mistake that could cost Washington County taxpayers thousands of dollars.

"The buck stops here," Rohrer said Thursday.

The situation arose because the county missed a 60-day deadline to accept the low bid on a sewer project in the Cavetown area. The Washington County Commissioners awarded the contract but a letter to that effect was not sent to the contractor before the bid expired.

The low bidder then raised its bid by $58,000, but the county refused to accept it.

Rohrer said the project will be rebid, but the mistake probably will cost the county some money.

David H. Martin Excavating Inc., of Chambersburg, Pa., submitted the low bid of $249,848.66.

That was $135,000 under the engineers' estimate for the project and $104,000 under the next lowest bid.

The bid was so low that Rohrer contacted the company to make sure officials there understood the contract and could perform the work.

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The firm assured Rohrer on both counts.

Rohrer said the county then submitted the contract for approval to the Maryland Department of the Environment, which has awarded a $275,000 grant for the project.

The state approved the bid about a week before the Saturday, May 10, deadline. The County Commissioners awarded the contract on Tuesday, May 5.

Rohrer spent the rest of the week at a public works director seminar in Gaithersburg, Md., he said.

When he returned to his office on Monday, he found out a letter of bid acceptance had not been sent to the company, and rectified that. But the firm refused to honor the expired bid.

Rohrer said the mistake was a result of a miscommunication between him and the Water and Sewer Department. Rohrer said he expected the Water and Sewer Department to write the confirmation letter and they expected him to write the letter.

"We fixed it so it won't happen again," Rohrer said.

Commissioner R. Lee Downey said the situation was particularly bad because the difference between the first and second bids was so large. He said he wanted to make sure such a misstep didn't happen again.

Downey and Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers said any disciplinary action would be considered in a closed session of the commissioners.

"What I don't understand is how this happened," Bowers said. Bowers said County Administrator Rodney Shoop should make sure mechanisms are in place to prevent similar mistakes from happening elsewhere in county government.

"I think Gary's got a good track record in the county," said County Commissioner James R. Wade. "Hopefully, the bids will come back where they were before and we'll chalk this up to experience."

Commissioner John S. Shank said Rohrer made an honest mistake. "It's amazing that more of that hasn't happened," Shank said.

The two other bids on the project were from the Charles E. Brake Co. Inc. of St. Thomas, Pa., at $353,894, and Bruce Allen Inc. of Bridgeport, W.Va., at $461,645.

The new bids are due Aug. 5.

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