In effort to hire the most qualified contractors for city projects, Palm Coast recently adopted a prequalification process for collecting and assessing bids.
A committee of three assesses contractors’ history and checks their references to ensure that they are qualified for a job. The terms of prequalification change for each project, but the process is now in place for all bids, said David Klages, purchasing technician for Palm Coast’s purchasing division.
Prequalification prevents the city from simply accepting a bid for a project from the lowest bidder, Klages said.
The first bid to undergo this process was approved Tuesday by the Palm Coast City Council for a $1.37 million contract with Cline Construction for the rehabilitation project of the Three Sisters water control structure complex.
Under the prequalifying process, bidders were required to have done a similar project within the last three years.
Councilman Jason DeLorenzo asked whether the new process limited potential builders from bidding on the project at a Jan. 8 City Council workshop.
“Because of the economy, there’s not a whole lot of this kind of work going on,” DeLorenzo said. “Are we limiting the number of bidders (available) because of the three-year rule?”
The city received three bids for this project, which is similar to the number of bids received before prequalification was adopted, said City Manager Jim Landon. No bidders were disqualified through the review process, he said.
A goal of prequalification is to stop inexperienced bidders from submitting a low bid for projects they aren’t qualified to do.
“Getting unqualified bidders lowballing really is a problem, particularly in times like these, when people are hungry and they’ll say, ‘Well, I’m going to try to do something I’m not qualified to do,’” Landon said.
The three bids received were all close to the city engineer’s estimate and within budget, Landon said.
DeLorenzo said that while he worried that qualified contractors who hadn’t been able to win bids for highly specialized projects — such as the weir project —might be eliminated from consideration unfairly, after hearing the number of bids received, he felt that the process did not do so.
There is room for project managers to change how many years of a potential bidder’s history is examined, Klages said, which keeps the process flexible.
The city has always checked the background of contractors it hires, but now, the process is done right away rather than after a bid is won, Klages said.
“In the end,” said Councilman Bill Lewis, “you don’t want to be a guinea pig for someone trying their hand at something you have no experience with.”