New London animal shelter repairs questioned by two City Council members

New London - Two members of the City Council want the state Attorney General's Office to investigate the way the public works department spent about $160,000 to repair the animal shelter at Bates Woods.

"I'm not accusing anyone of anything," said Councilor Michael Passero after the Public Works Committee voted 2-1 Monday to forward the request to the full council for further debate and possible action.

Councilor Martin Olsen, chairman of the committee, voted in favor of the request. Council President Wade Hyslop was opposed.

"I believe the project was properly handled and was a savings to the city," Hyslop said.

At Monday's meeting, Passero questioned the way contractors for the project were found and hired, and why the City Council was not asked to approve any contracts. The city has an ordinance that requires it to obtain a minimum of three bids and council approval for any work costing more than $20,000.

"I want answers and I'm not getting them," Passero said. "I want a review of what went on, if it was all done correctly and if they followed the public bidding process."

The city has spent $162,900 repairing the shelter. Passero said he has been asking for details of the project and how it was funded since last August, and only recently received documentation.

In October 2012, Superstorm Sandy sent a tree crashing through the city's dog pound, barely missing the animal control officer on duty and the seven dogs that were sheltered there.

The reconstruction project included addressing violations that had been identified by the state Animal Control Division, including inadequate storage and animal washing areas. The building size was increased by 24 percent, from 1,295 square feet to 1,715 square feet. Because of the extent of the storm damage, the rebuilt structure also had to meet all current building and fire codes.

The project is eligible for 75 percent reimbursement from FEMA, according Finance Director Jeff Smith.

"We'll check to see if we made any technical errors," Smith said after the meeting. "The end result is that this project worked out to the best interest of the city. They should be giving the public works director a medal and not harassing him for political reasons."

Public Works Tim Hanser explained to the committee that his department was the general contractor for the project and all the contractors were hired for jobs under $20,000. The city's "classification and value" ordinance, which covers the bid process, includes provisions that allow the city to waive the three-bid minimum on projects under $20,000.

"It's a fairness issue," said Olsen. "If these things aren't posted and advertised, how can anyone know to bid on them."

Passero pointed out that one contractor was awarded several separate bids, totaling around $60,000, which could be a violation of the ordinance.

"These ordinances have to be enforced," he said. "They are needed to get the best value, and to avoid fraud and corruption."

Smith said if the repairs were done as one project, the city would have had to hire an architect to draw up plans and specifications, and it probably would have increased costs.

The City Council appropriated up to $170,000 in 2008 to address the building code violations but the project was never started. When the tree fell through the roof, Smith said, public works went after FEMA money to fix the damage and make improvements.

The shelter is expected to reopen in a couple weeks, Hanser said. Surrounding communities have been housing the city's stray and impounded dogs and cats.


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