Seat Pleasant officials hope a new measure streamlining the spending approval process will grant the city greater flexibiilty in negotiating with private developers.
The City Council voted Dec. 10 in favor of a charter amendment that increases from $3,000 to $7,500 the amount the city administrator can spend, with council approval, on contracts needed for development projects on city-owned land. The approval only applies to contracts that do not require a bidding process and public-private partnership projects that have already been approved by the council.
City Council members said the measure will allow city employees to move quicker and more effectively when working on development projects with private investors.
Seat Pleasant Mayor Eugene Grant said the change is necessary as the city moves forward with partnerships like the City Center project, a $60 million development in conjunction with Vienna, Va.-based Kratos Infrastructure LLC to build a new City Hall, senior housing, and a 24-hour health and wellness center. The project broke ground in September and is slated for completion by the end of 2014.
Grant said $3,000 was too low of a threshold to hire experts to consult on aspects of large-scale projects. Above the $3,000 threshold, the city administrator would have to advertise the contract and evaluate multiple bids, which can take as long as two to three months, Grant said.
“This is a vehicle to make it easier to do public-private partnerships,” Grant said. “...The city needs to be able to consult with attorneys or engineers on a project as part of the city administrator’s day-to-day business.”
Although the amendment is necessary for working on the City Center development on a timely basis, Grant said, he said the measure will grant flexibility in future public-private partnerships.
Grant said the city will have to rely on partnerships with private developers as it looks to build public areas and infrastructure, given the city’s relatively small budget.
“We don’t have the money to develop sites ourselves since our budget is only $3 million,” he said. “...Projects [like the City Center] are multi-million dollar developments.”
Two of the seven council members, Aretha Stephenson (Ward 2) and Eugene Kennedy (Ward 5) abstained from the Dec. 10 5-to-0 vote.
Kennedy said he chose not to cast a vote because he was elected in September, which was after the measure was initially discussed, and he had concerns about the measure’s potential to be used as a starting point for eroding the city’s competitive bidding process.
“I just did not want to set what could be a dangerous precedent,” Kennedy said.
But Grant said in drafting the charter amendment that he ensured it could only be narrowly applied to contracts associated with public-private partnerships and only after such deals have been approved by the council, which he said would discourage the expansion of such spending into other areas of city government.
“When we spoke with the city attorney, we said, ‘It’s got to be specifically for [public-private partnerships],’ because we didn’t want to usurp the system,” Grant said. “And [the city administrator] still has to come to the council for approval of the spending.”