TAMPA — The City Council on Thursday decided against paying a private company $690,000 to inspect city fire hydrants, saying Tampa's own water department should do the work instead.
The move came after Council member Joseph Caetano raised questions about spending money on a firm based on Florida's east coast that will have to bring in people from out of town at a time when the city is in the midst of a budget crunch and layoffs.
"I don't think we're going to get our money's worth," Caetano said of the contract.
Water department officials say their workers spend most of their time repairing and replacing old water pipes and don't have time to inspect hydrants. An audit last year showed the city had fallen far behind on those inspections.
Handling the work in-house would involve hiring more people and cost $1-million a year based on an $18-per-hour salary, said Steve Daignault, the city's administrator for utilities and public works.
But council members said they thought Daignault could find people to do the work for a much lower hourly rate.
The council voted 5-1 to reject the contract, with Charlie Miranda absent and Linda Saul-Sena casting the dissenting vote.
"I can't believe I'm saying let's go to the private sector instead of doing it in-house," Saul-Sena said, but noted she believes the contract is the most efficient way to get the job done.
After the meeting, water department director Brad Baird said it might be possible to train city janitorial and maintenance workers targeted for layoffs to do the inspections.
"I don't know if they have the wherewithal to do the work," he said, pointing out that it takes great physical strength to dismantle the hydrants and get a closer look at them.
Last year, an internal audit revealed that the city had fallen far behind on hydrant inspections. The city's slow timetable violated a state law that requires yearly inspections. After seeing the audit results, the city completed inspections of nearly 12,800 hydrants in nine weeks and found at least 68 hydrants had problems.
Baird said that rapid pace isn't typical because those inspections weren't done to the highest professional standards.
Janet Zink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3401.
• City Council member Mary Mulhern said she wants another public meeting to get comment on plans for a $15-million remake of Curtis Hixon Park.
Mulhern said she believes the community might prefer a design that's less focused on accommodating special events.
• At the request of City Council member Tom Scott, the council agreed to hire a Chicago attorney with special expertise in equal opportunity contracting to review a proposed ordinance intended to increase the city's contracts with minority- and women-owned businesses. A first vote on the ordinance is scheduled for April 3.
• The council agreed to postpone approval of an $83,500 contract with a company to come up with a plan for relieving flooding on S Dale Mabry Highway between Neptune Street and Henderson Boulevard.
Mayor Pam Iorio last year scrapped a previous plan that was in the works for two years after people rallied against putting a massive drainage system through their narrow residential streets. Residents were particularly irritated that there were no public meetings on the project even as progress on it rapidly continued.
Mulhern suggested involving neighborhoods in the new plan from the very beginning.
Council member John Dingfelder said that after the failure of the previous plan, the last thing he wants is for neighborhood leaders to wonder what's going on with the project.
• The council agreed to move forward with an ordinance that would require tow truck drivers to get a signature from a property owner before removing an abandoned car outside their bar or restaurant that serves alcohol.
Hillsborough County passed a similar ordinance last year so that people who have had too much to drink and call a taxi or friend to get them home aren't penalized for leaving their cars behind.
The law applies in the city, but city attorneys say it will be easier to enforce if Tampa has its own ordinance.