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Renovation bidders stir controversy

January 25, 1998

Renovation bidders stir controversy

By JULIE E. GREENE

Staff Writer

Before the Hagerstown City Council votes whether to approve the low bidder for a renovation project, Councilwoman Susan Saum-Wicklein wants the company's work quality reviewed.

Saum-Wicklein said her real estate partnership is in litigation with the low bidder, Morin-Rocco Contractors Inc., of 49 Summit Ave.

"I have a problem with awarding construction to this corporation," she said during Tuesday's council work session.

Morin-Rocco bid $94,947 to rehabilitate 125 and 127 N. Locust St. for the city's homeownership program. Through the program, the city buys, renovates and sells houses to low-income people to improve the city's homeownership rate.

According to records in Washington County Circuit Court, Saum-Wicklein's real estate partnership has a $17,536 judgment against MRI Construction Inc., which is owned by the same people as Morin-Rocco.

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The real estate partnership includes Saum-Wicklein's husband, Michael Wicklein, and her father, Douglas C. Saum.

The judgment was for faulty roof work and the damage the leaks caused inside her husband's business, Video Vision at 37 E. Washington St., according to court records. The roof work was done by MRI Construction's subcontractor around December 1991, records said.

Saum-Wicklein's judgment is with a previous subsidiary of Morin-Rocco, owners Norman Morin Jr. and Denis Rocco said in telephone interviews on Thursday.

"Same principal," Saum-Wicklein responded.

Rocco said MRI Construction is no longer an active business.

"She's never had an experience with Morin-Rocco Contractors Inc. and there's no judgment against that company with anybody," Rocco said.

"I understand that the city is contacting several of our clients and I think so far they haven't found any negative comments," Rocco said.

George Andreve, manager of the city's Department of Community Development, would not comment on his findings so far.

Morin said he was surprised by Saum-Wicklein's comment because he said Morin-Rocco has an excellent reputation in the community. The firm has been in business for 15 years.

The council might want to award the project to the next lowest bidder, Dale M. Ford Construction, of Boonsboro, Saum-Wicklein suggested at the work session. Ford's bid was $96,000.

The council could vote on the bid during Tuesday's 7 p.m. regular meeting.

Saum-Wicklein said she thinks Morin-Rocco is capable of doing a good job, but she has a problem awarding such a large contract to the firm.

Morin-Rocco has done one other project with the city, Andreve said.

The firm bought apartments on Bethel Street that had deteriorated into an eyesore and renovated them with financial assistance from the city and state in 1994, Andreve said.

That was high quality work, he said.

Andreve said the firm would have $1 million liability insurance in case someone is injured on the job or adjacent property is damaged.

The firm does not have a performance bond, which would provide a reserve fund to pay for incomplete work, correct poor work or to draw on if the firm declares bankruptcy, Andreve said.

Small contractors usually cannot afford a performance bond, he said.

Saum-Wicklein said a performance bond should be policy. It's the city's fiduciary responsibility, she said.

Councilman J. Wallace McClure said if the council wants a new policy requiring performance bonds, it shouldn't take effect until the new fiscal year starts on July 1.

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