Hawaii County to save $1M thanks to change in bid specs
By Nancy Cook Lauer
West Hawaii Today
HILO, Hawaii -- It's funny what a little competition will do.
Hawaii County taxpayers are slated to save more than $1 million over the next two years for roadside drywell and culvert cleaning, thanks to more competitive bid specifications.
Kamaaina Pumping, which has held the contract since 1996, was the apparent low bidder on the two-year contract at a bid opening Friday. The company bid about half what it charged for the previous two years, when it made $2.5 million for the same work.
Hawaii County officials earlier this year yanked the bid solicitation while they investigated possible bid-rigging. Would-be bidders questioned why requirements were modified so that Kamaaina, owned by Randell Riley, head of the Department of Public Works Automotive Division, was the only qualifying bidder.
Public Works Director Warren Lee conducted an investigation into why the specifications were changed for the first time in 20 years. Lee declined to talk about his findings, saying Thursday he had turned his report over to Corporation Counsel. Deputy Corporation Counsel Gerald Takase did not return messages for comment Thursday or Friday.
Two other bidders participated under the new solicitation that encouraged more competition. Both attended the bid opening. No representative of Kamaaina Pumping was in attendance, and the company did not return a telephone call Friday afternoon.
But Kamaaina attorney Brian De Lima said his client has consistently bid less than competitors and saved taxpayers money. He attributed this year's significantly lower bid this year to the economy.
"These are difficult economic times," De Lima said. "Businesses have to adjust in the competitive climate."
One of the other companies, B and B Pumping Services of Hilo, would have been the low bidder had Kamaaina kept its previous pricing structure.
"I'm certainly thankful it's being done the proper way now," said B and B co-manager Paul Balberde, who had been blocked by the county, which had said it would only accept bids from companies that had cleaned at least 150 drywells in the past three years.
The other bidder was Kailua, Oahu-based Eckard Brandes, which earlier this year challenged the change in specifications, leading to the county to yank the bid.
"This is a case in point for the competitive marketplace and why it works," said President Jeff Iwasaki-Higbee. "The taxpayers are going to benefit. They're going to get more services for the dollar."
The future of the drywell pumping contract remains uncertain, however. Mayor Billy Kenoi is pushing for ethics reforms that would bar county employees from also being county contractors, especially in their own departments.
Those proposals are being considered by the county Board of Ethics, which is expected to make recommendations to the Hawaii County Council next month.
And a recent audit of Public Works says taxpayers would save even more if the entire operation were brought in-house.
The audit, conducted by Legislative Auditor Colleen Schrandt, says that a new pumping truck could be purchased and two full-time employees assigned to do the work for about $500,000 a year. The 115-page report warns that Public Works is ripe for misappropriation and malfeasance because of inadequate controls over its $27.5 million highway fund.
The county ethics code allows county employees to contract with the county, as long as the contract is awarded by closed bid. The code forbids employees from using their position to secure advantages or contracts over others.
Procurement Specialist Steve Wilhelm, who opened the sealed bids, said they now go to Public Works, where they will be evaluated and a recommendation returned to procurement for a contract to be finalized.