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Inside City Hall: $27M sought for consultants – and maybe more

The Water Bureau asks for latitude to increase contract payments over the “upset” limit.

Above: The Water Bureau says it needs consultant help to stem the flow of untreated sewage and stormwater.

The Board of Estimates will be asked tomorrow to sign off on an agreement to offer three consultants a maximum of $27 million, then grant a waiver so that their fees could go higher.

The city says the consultants are needed to meet the deadlines of a federal consent decree requiring the end of untreated sewage outflows into the harbor and Chesapeake Bay.

Reliance on private consultants to help administer major city projects is not new.

What is new – or at least highly unusual – is the Bureau of Water and Wastewater’s request to the Board of Estimates “to grant a waiver of the upset limit for the on-call contracts” above the $27 million figure.

Translated, this means that the maximum amount of fees that can be charged by the consultants, known as the “upset limit,” will be removed, allowing the agency to determine the final price of their services over the three-year life of the contracts.

Coming Soon: Water Bill Hike

The Water Bureau’s request comes a month before the Board of Estimates is expected to announce a minimum 9% increase in residential water and sewer rates. The hike will be the sixth increase since 2008, which is necessary, the city says, to meet the cost of the consent decree.

In addition to city residents and businesses, the fee will impact tens of thousands of consumers in Baltimore, Anne Arundel and other counties that use city water and sewage lines.

The 2002 consent decree sets a 2016 deadline for the city to rehabilitate hundreds of miles of sewer lines – plus storm drains, overflow tanks, manholes, pumping stations and the Back River wastewater treatment plant – to eliminate the flow of untreated sewage into Jones Falls, Gwynn Falls, Back River and other waterways, especially during and after heavy rainfall.

In papers filed with the Board of Estimates, the Bureau of Water says the consultants will provide assistance in handling paperwork and inspection reports, maintain project records, attend progress meetings, prepare record drawings and review claims from contractors.

Lead Consultant: RK&K

“In addition, the consultants will provide assistance with estimating, scheduling, project engineering, constructability reviews and construction contract administrative support” for the agency’s Construction Management Division, which boasts 137 budgeted positions, according to its 2013 budget.

The consulting agreement will offer $9 million each to Baltimore-based Rummel, Klepper & Kahl (RK&K), Louis Berger of Morristown, N.J., and Arcadis US, a Dutch company with offices in Denver, Colo.

The removal of the upset limit on each contract is necessary, the agency said, “to allow sufficient latitude in staffing and funding to ensure that the city meets the requirements and deadlines . . . related to consent decree projects and other infrastructure-related projects.”

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has been a firm believer in increasing infrastructure spending for the city’s aging water and sewer system. Under a City Charter amendment passed by voters in 1978, the city’s waterworks  must be maintained as a self-sustaining “enterprise fund.”

As a result, all additional costs of the system are ultimately passed onto residential and business users in the form of rate increases.

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