A decision to hire an engineering firm for the Utilities Expansion Project was postponed by the Cape Coral City Council Monday night after the board decided to bring it to a workshop first.
After nearly 30 minutes of discussion, council unanimously agreed to continue the item until the next voting meeting on Oct. 22.
The board was not comfortable with the idea of voting on something with so much money involved without the proper discussion.
City manager John Szerlag said staff would proceed at council direction.
"If you're not comfortable, vote to continue," Szerlag said. "It's like a reverse workshop. If you want three shots, we'll do it."
What council decided was to move up the resolution and hear the presentation from staff, workshop it on Oct. 15 with public comment, then get final input from citizens before putting it to a final vote on Oct. 22.
But before the presentation Monday night, Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz lectured Szerlag on city policy.
"Our policy is to workshop so we can get additional data. The city manager slammed this onto the agenda without a workshop," Chulakes-Leetz said. "Please adapt to our procedures and not yours because that's not appropriate."
Councilmember Marty McClain objected to Chulakes-Leetz's "beatdown," saying it was inappropriate to blame staff.
"Nothing says we can't bring up a resolution in a voting meeting. I read the contract. I'm sorry if you didn't," McClain said.
During the presentation, where Szerlag took to the podium, the specifics of the proposed contract were laid out.
The contract between the city and Tetra Tech, Inc. of Fort Myers would be for engineering services for the Southwest 6 & 7 component of the UEP for $7,679,332, plus a 5 percent contingency of $383,966.
City business manager Mike Ilczyszyn said Southwest 6 & 7 is slated to start next spring and be completed toward the end of 2015. However, since the project has been shelved previously, the contract provides for it to stay in effect up to 84 months.
Chulakes-Leetz also questioned if this would affect the city's credit rating.
City Finance Director, Victoria Bateman answered that if the cost was to be covered by ratepayers, the credit rating would not be affected.
He then asked Szerlag if the contract had been submitted to the state for evaluation to qualify for the revolving loan.
When Szerlag said he wasn't sure, Bateman said the council had to approve the contract first.
"Could we send it to the SRF for a first opinion to meet guidelines?" Chulakes-Leetz asked. "That's best practices."
Szerlag said he would look into it. Meanwhile, Mayor John Sullivan asked if the city could get federal dollars.
He also wondered why the city couldn't have all the work done in house instead of contracting for the services.
Ilczyszyn said a portion was being done in house. Szerlag has budgeted three inspectors, a utilities extension manager and a contract specialist to deal with the work on the UEP.
The hybrid approach Szerlag has championed was questioned, but was also budgeted for this year, Ilczyszyn said.
"We explained it to them with the design bid, build project delivery method. We told them no matter what methodology, there was a core group of people we needed to hire," Ilczyszyn said. "It was the five we brought to council, and they approved in the city budget."
"I don't want to spend the money, have the ratepayers pay for it, and have it on the shelf," Sullivan said.
After the 90-minute discussion, Ilczyszyn said the contract comes down to two things.
"It's about professional services for engineering design and construction, engineering and inspection at the tail end," Ilczyszyn said. "It's part of the process in design, bid, build. Instead of having them under one contractor or construction manager, here you have the engineer sit aside as part of the design side and inspection and get another contract for underground construction."
Public input is slated for Oct. 15. There is no meeting next Monday for Columbus Day.