BROOKSVILLE — At a time when county officials are hip-deep in budget woes, utilities director Joe Stapf got some unexpectedly good news Wednesday.
Every one of the more than half-dozen bidders seeking work to expand the county's landfill have offered prices far below the county's estimate of $9.35 million.
In fact, the apparent low bidder, Southeast Environmental Contracting of Georgia, offered a price of just $5.5 million, according to Jim Gantt, county purchasing director.
The highest of the bids submitted was $7.7 million.
Stapf was amazed. "I was speechless — and in a good sort of way,'' he said.
The cell at the landfill is nearly full, and officials have been scrambling to obtain the necessary state permit and get started building a new one. If it can't be done in time, the county would have to start shipping garbage outside its borders, an expensive proposition.
One of the provisions Stapf built into the bid specifications was that if the contractor cannot meet built-in deadlines, it could face damage payments of $10,000 per day to Hernando County.
Stapf said he thought that might drive up the contract cost, as contractors made sure to cover themselves. He said that didn't seem to have all that big an effect.
While he said he had no way of knowing why the bids were so much lower than the estimate, he said he would guess, "it's probably a sign of the times, with contractors really anxious for work. They're cutting their profit margins to the bone just to keep things rolling on a while longer.''
The county has $4.5 million in its construction reserve fund and would still have to make up the difference in cost, but it has several options. One which Stapf hopes will come through is dollars from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Just this week, county commissioners approved the application to that agency seeking funding.
County staff will now examine the opened bids in detail to make sure all the specifications have been met. A recommendation to the County Commission on which firm to select is expected in late August or early September, according to Gantt.
He said the county should also know by then if the USDA dollars will be awarded to Hernando County.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.