Twelve companies inquire about running North Providence DPW

Twelve companies inquire about running North Providence DPW

Sealed bids set to be opened Thursday morning

NORTH PROVIDENCE - Representatives for a dozen private construction companies showed up for a tour of North Providence last week. All had at least a preliminary interest in taking over the town's public works services, according to local officials.

Mayor Charles Lombardi, who is seeking bids for a private company to assume control of the Department of Public Works, told The Breeze that the number shows a "strong interest" in running the DPW, which can only be a "good thing" for taxpayers. The more competition the greater chance of a bid that will save the town big money, he said.

Companies were required to be represented at the initial walk-through and briefing on May 16, according to Lombardi, if they wanted to be considered when final bids were submitted. They had the chance to "come in, look around and ask questions," he said.

Sealed bids will be received by Purchasing Agent Michael Mooney until 9:45 a.m. this Thursday, May 23. They'll be opened at 10 a.m. Thursday, according to the town's official request for proposals.

Thursday's bid event will prove once and for all whether all the talk from Lombardi over the years that the town's DPW could be run in a much more cost-effective way, with fewer employees doing the work, is realistic.

John DeAngelis, president of the Local 1491-A of Council 94, AFSCEME, AFL-CIO, told The Breeze Monday that the union is not prepared to decide on possible legal action against the Lombardi administration.

"We can't do anything until we see the numbers," he said. "Until we see the numbers we can't speculate."

In its letter, the union does question whether the mayor will be able to save money through a private contract, especially after he failed to do so when he sought proposals on grass-cutting earlier this year.

Read a letter from DeAngelis and the union explaining their position on the privatization of the DPW above.

Lombardi on Monday disputed the claims of DPW workers in their letter, which states that the mayor has left the department well under-staffed for ever-increasing duties and that many of the issues the mayor has with the department happened before most of the workers were even hired.

Lombardi said in a statement that he "does not want to get into an us versus them," but feels there are "a lot of untruthfulness" within the letter. He said it is being used by workers to "justify themselves."

The mayor did hold to the idea that employees in many cases are only working five hours a day and he believes he "can get a bigger bang" for his buck with a private DPW.

The town's budget for 2013-2014 calls for a total of $1.54 million to be spent on running the Public Works Department, with its 25 full-time employees, and Lombardi believes he'll be able to save several hundred thousand dollars on that figure by hiring a private company.

The winning bidder will have use of the town garage facility and yard area located at 2 Mafalda St. The company would be responsible for a town that covers five square miles, according to the bid specifications, and features approximately 110 lane miles of roadway to be maintained.

In addition to six parks and open space areas, the company will also be charged with maintaining 10 school properties across town.

Lombardi told The Breeze last year that he had finally commenced "serious talks" on the idea for a privately-run DPW. He said that hiring a private company would both save the town a substantial amount in personnel costs and ensure that taxpayers have people working for them who are giving an "honest day's work."

Union workers have proven again and again that they don't care about providing valuable service to the town, he said, as particularly evidenced with the poor condition of the lawns and shrubbery at the town's schools.

"I am done expending valuable time trying to make them work," said the mayor last year. "We can't work with them anymore."

The last straw for Lombardi came when unionized DPW workers filed a grievance over not getting the day after the day after Christmas off in 2010. The mayor had warned union representatives that the "Christmas Holidays Compensation" grievance was not a good idea, considering his long-held desire to go private with public works operations.

But union leaders state in their letter that even though an arbitrator ruled in their favor on the Christmas issue, they took the perk out of a contract they presented to the mayor on Jan. 7.

Points of conflict between Lombardi and the DPW over the years have revolved around the number of hours employees were working each day, the quality of their work when they did show up, the length of the breaks they were taking, and how often they were calling in sick.

Lombardi has grown so upset with what he sees as a lack of effort on the part of DPW employees that he even decided one day to punch out all of their timecards as he claimed they stood around waiting for the end of the day.

Workers have denied that Lombardi ever punched out any timecards, saying in their letter that the action would be "illegal" and a grievance would have been filed.

DPW workers and family members privately contend that Lombardi has left the department short-handed. If staffing levels were increased, they say, the department would have greater productivity and the schools would look better.

According to the town's request for proposals, the North Providence Purchasing Board "reserves the right to reject any and all bids, to waive any informalities in the bids received and to accept the bid deemed most favorable to the interest of the town."

Find the request for proposals at bit.ly/10fRyOu .