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Man says his firm could clear city sidewalks for less

February 12, 2004|by gregory

gregs@herald-mail.com

The city of Hagerstown hired Charles Burkett's company, Servtec Custodial Inc., in January 2003 to remove snow from in front of some city-owned properties.

His price: $15 per sidewalk, and $5 for each time he spread salt on a walkway where it was needed, according to a letter he provided from the city.

Burkett had not asked to be on a list of contractors the city would contact about other jobs, and he said he didn't see advertisements seeking bids for the work. When city officials called 14 other contractors last summer seeking to hire someone to enforce the city's snow removal ordinance, Burkett was not contacted, city officials said Wednesday.

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Buildall Construction Corp. of Hagerstown was the only company to bid on the contract. It was awarded the job clearing sidewalks on behalf of the city at a price of $28 an hour for labor, $22 an hour for snow removal and equipment fees, and $45 per salt application, according to a copy of the contract provided by the city.

"I could have saved the people some money," Burkett said Wednesday.

The city code - designed to make city sidewalks safer - requires property owners to clear snow and ice from public sidewalks within four to 10 hours after a winter storm ends, depending on where the property lies. If owners do not clear their sidewalks, the city contractor can do the work for a fee, and eventually violators can be fined $200.

While no one has been fined, owners of 51 properties were charged between $178 and $285 - including an administrative fee and labor costs - in January and December when Buildall cleared snow from their sidewalks.

Workers for Buildall have cleared more sidewalks than that, but officials Wednesday delayed the release of a current list of those properties, citing recent policy changes, city spokeswoman Karen Giffin said.

The changes include a refund of the city's $100 administrative fee to those already charged. The city now will charge a $25 administrative fee until the ordinance is further reviewed by the mayor and council later this year.

After reviewing a copy of Buildall's contract, Burkett said there are some differences in his own contract with the city, but said he could charge a lower price than Buildall.

He said his company appears to be about the same size as Buildall's, but he does not face fines if he doesn't fulfill his obligations - as Buildall does. The wages he would pay employees probably would be lower because he is not a construction company.

Burkett clears snow shortly after a snowfall while Buildall is clearing snow and ice that has been on a sidewalk for several days, when it has frozen and is harder to remove.

Burkett said $45 for the salt application "to me seems kind of excessive."

He said in light of the heavier workload, he could offer a price of $10 for salt application and $20 to $25 per sidewalk for labor and still "make some money on it."

Jason Stamper, who owns Buildall, said he bid on the job after reading about it in the newspaper.

"We bid our price ... and it was an open bid and anyone was welcome to bid," Stamper said.

He said his price is "a fair price and the price was accepted by the city."

He said his prices include company overhead, but he would not discuss specific costs.

Stamper said he knows other companies that earn $10,000 to $25,000 per snowfall. According to city information, Buildall had billed $5,543 for the first two times it cleared snow.

"I don't understand why we've gotten so much press," Stamper said.

City Engineer Rodney Tissue said Wednesday that he spoke with Burkett this week and he is now on the list of people to contact for future bids.

Tissue said he was not aware until he spoke with Burkett that the city had a contract with Burkett's company. Had he known about his company, "We certainly would have given him the opportunity to bid," he said.

City Administrative Services Director John Budesky said there is no central list of contractors kept by the city.

"There's no central list and, to be honest with you, it would probably take a lot of effort," Budesky said.

He said hundreds of companies contract with the city, and the compilation would require a manual reading of individual contracts and purchase orders, which are kept in various departments and the city clerk's office.

Budesky said despite the lack of a central list, the city puts out public notices for contracts.

"You can probably find someone to dispute every single bid," Budesky said. "The public notice process," in which the city advertises contracts through local media, "is the fair and responsible process that we do."

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