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Inside City Hall: Young and Pratt go along with new round of sewer consultant contracts

A year after criticizing the city’s over-reliance on private inspectors, two officials approve $8 million for more of them

Above: Comptroller Joan Pratt and City Council President Jack Young at a recent Board of Estimates meeting. To their left is Mayor Rawlings-Blake.

A year ago, two of Baltimore’s top elected officials made headlines by criticizing what they called an over-reliance on consultants in city government.

Back then, City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young and Comptroller Joan Pratt voted against $27 million to pay for private companies to inspect sewers and maintain documents required under a federal consent decree.

Pratt said the “on call” consultants would cost the city three times more than if the work was done in-house.

The cost for such contracts are reflected in residential and commercial water bills, which are set to increase by another 42% between 2013 and 2015 in three steps.

Yesterday, the Rawlings-Blake administration sought another $8 million in consultant agreements at the Board of Estimates – and Young and Pratt went along with the request without a peep.

The expenditures were part of a $20 million package of public works contracts affirmed by voice vote during the four-minute-long meeting.

Pratt: City Needs to Attract in-House Staff

In response to questions from The Brew, Pratt issued a statement last night saying that she approved the new contracts with “some reluctance.”

“I continue to be concerned about the use of consultants to augment staff,” she said. “However, I voted ‘yes’ because I am also concerned about non-compliance with the consent decree and the potential impact on the city.”

Pratt called on the city to improve salaries to attract and retain the staff needed for large-scale infrastructure improvements. “This is an area that must be addressed to reduce the amount of funds used to augment staff,” she said.

Young’s office did not respond to two requests for comment on his vote yesterday. A year ago, Young told reporters, “I’m just a little tired of the consultant work,” adding, “I think we can get a better bang for our buck if we have the work done in-house.”

Young also approved $50,000 yesterday to pay for a consultant to help Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts improve neighborhood patrols.

Chow: Consultants More Efficient

Public Works Director Rudy Chow, who sits on the Board of Estimates, has argued that despite their much higher hourly rate, paying for consultants makes sense because they can get the work done quickly and without the burden of paying staff after projects are completed.

The agency’s Construction Management Division said it needs assistance from consultants to keep pace with the massive construction projects it must complete to upgrade its sewer infrastructure under a 2002 consent decree with the federal government. The consultants will monitor the projects, review daily reports, maintain project records and assist with engineering and administrative support, according to the agency.

Pratt cited the “impending 2016 deadline” for federal compliance as a major factor in her decision to approve the latest expenditures.

However, Chow last year told The Brew that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had tentatively given the city a three-year “breathing space” to complete the major sewer projects by 2019. The EPA has not yet officially extended the 2016 deadline.

No Competitive Bidding

An important fact in the debate over the use of consultants: Such contracts are not put out to public competitive bidding because the city considers them “professional service contracts.”

As such, the vendor reaches a private agreement with a city agency, including the terms of pay and personnel, under broad guidelines established by the departments.

Yesterday, the Board of Estimates approved the following service agreements:

• $4 million for sewer inspectors and related services by Whitman Requardt & Associates and Gannett Fleming (joint venture) for three years.

• $4 million for the same services by Johnson, Mirmiran & Thompson.

• a $2.75 million extension of a 2011 agreement with Raftelis Financial Consultants to perform financial consulting services, including the rates for water and sewer charges.

• $871,786.70 in extra pay for an on-going consultant contract with Arcadis-US to provide inspection services for outfall interceptors.

In addition, the board approved a $7.95 million bid contract by Monumental Paving & Contracting to replace water mains in Edmondson Village in far West Baltimore.

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