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Sidewalk deal not etched in stone

Sidewalks have been built along Washington Street and most of BayBoulevard, but the way the project has been administered has led two City Council members to put their feet down with the city's street department chief.

Council members Ken Altman and Michael Cox shook their heads in disgust Tuesday when they learned that the city did not have a written contract with the low bidder - who laid about 1,200 feet of sidewalk before he demanded to be paid more per square foot than he had bid.

Altman and Cox also were annoyed that street department head Terry Cobb didn't notify the City Council before selecting the second-lowest bidder to complete the project, which will run about $9,000 over the original budget estimate.

"When you're running your own business, you can make agreements like that. But when you're fooling with taxpayer's money, you don't make decisions like that," Cox said. "This is the reason our city gets the reputation it gets, because we do things like this."

But Mayor Keith Kollenbaum defended the practice of not signing written contracts for small projects such as the sidewalk construction, which has cost about $28,000 so far. He said the contractor's written bid, in response to written bid specifications drawn up by the city, serves as a contract.

"That's how I run my business," said Kollenbaum, who builds custom homes. He said most businesses and municipalities operate the same way.

But Peter Neustadt, a buyer for Pasco County, said that although the written bid technically holds the bidder liable to complete the job, the county draws up written contracts for all work except minor jobs such as cleaning the outside of a building or laying carpeting.

Kollenbaum responded by saying the county is mired in bureaucracy.

"I'm really not concerned with pushing paper. I'm concerned with building sidewalks," he said. "Had the county contracted the sidewalks . . . it would have taken 15 years in studies and consultants."

But Altman and Cox couldn't believe that the city had not drawn up a contract for the sidewalk construction with low bidder, Forbes & Farley Construction of Tarpon Springs.

"We just hire him and, like, if he works a day, that's okay?"

Altman sarcastically asked Cobb. "Don't we do things like get contracts from people that we put things out for bid?"

"Well, in this particular instance, Ken, I guess we didn't," Cobb said.

When asked if the city had a written contract with the new contractor, Bob Schroeder of Port Richey, Cobb said he had only a verbal agreement. He said he would get a written contract.

Bids for the project came in last summer. Neville Forbes of Forbes & Farley submitted a bid of 30 cents per square foot for about 3,000 linear feet of sidewalks. The city agreed to excavate the site and supply the concrete. Schroeder bid 35 cents a square foot.

Cobb said Forbes completed about 1,200 feet of sidewalk on Washington Street, then said he wouldn't do any more work unless he received 50 cents a foot. Cobb then contacted the second-lowest bidder, Schroeder, and he completed Washington Street and began working on Bay Boulevard.

The city paid Forbes for the work he had done and has spent about $28,000 on the sidewalks so far because the original $25,000 figure was a rough estimate, Kollenbaum said. Cobb said the city has built two miles of sidewalks, about a mile more than he originally estimated. The City Council Tuesday approved an additional $6,500 to finish the work on Bay Boulevard, agreeing that the sidewalks are beneficial to the city.

Kollenbaum said it would be unrealistic and cost too much money to sue Forbes for not completing the job. Forbes is in his mid-50s and earns $150 to $200 a week, Kollenbaum said.

Cox said he wasn't talking about suing Forbes, but about conducting business according to the city charter.

"These are the types of things I'm tired of reading about in the paper. . . . We've got to do things the way our charter says we're supposed to do them," he said. The charter says that any street improvements must be put out to bid, but it's not clear whether a contract is needed or whether the written bid would be considered a contract.