FAIRMONT - By state law, cities are required to award projects costing more than $100,000 to the "lowest responsible bidder," without favoring local businesses.
On Monday, Fairmont City Council was looking at a list of bidders for the Carl Nettifee Memorial Animal Shelter addition, with no choice but to choose Mohs Construction of Owatonna. Its bid was $105,716. The next closest was Christensen Lumber, a Fairmont business, at $114,820.
Money for the animal shelter was raised through donations, but since the city is the shelter's fiscal agent, state laws apply.
The reason for the law, explained City Attorney Elizabeth Bloomquist, is "so taxpayers get the most bang for their buck, and it keeps everyone honest."
But when bids are close, Councilman Joe Kallemeyn said it would be nice to have a choice.
Mayor Randy Quiring suggested people contact their state representatives - Rep. Bob Gunther and Sen. Julie Rosen - to ask them to push for change.
"It's unfair," said a frustrated Councilman Terry Anderson, who proposed pushing the envelope by awarding the project to Christensen to see what the state would do. "There has to be a way to make this happen."
There was one possibility.
"We can reject all the bids," Anderson suggested.
"The problem is that would set the project back," reasoned Bloomquist.
"So?" Anderson countered.
There are benefits to out-of-town contractors coming to town, several of which Kallemeyn noted, such as the money workers spend in Fairmont on lodging, food, shopping and entertainment.
"But most of that money walks out the door," he said.
Anderson believes other variables in addition to the bid amount should be taken into account, such as the quality of the workmanship.
Adamantly agreeing was Councilman Chad Askeland, who was willing to bet that if the project went to Christiansen Lumber, "They would take a little more pride in the building," since the workers live in Fairmont, "and they have to look at it every single day."
All the reasons the council presented for having a choice were reasonable, agreed city administrator Mike Humpal, but he pointed out that if a city made a habit of voting for local bidders instead of low bidders - even if the bids were close - the difference would add up.
"The other side is, if you don't take the low bid, there are people who would be upset with us for that too," Quiring added.
The council voted to award the project to Mohs, with Anderson voting no.
"I'm gonna be ornery," he said.
In other business, the council:
o Approved the sale of blighted property at 415 Webster St. to resident Brian Barnes for $1,500.
o Approved a solicitors license for American Exteriors, LLC, a window and siding company. Police did conduct an investigation on the applicants before the council approved the license application.
o Approved a transient merchant license for TNT Fireworks of Fargo, N.D., to sell its products in the Walmart parking lot between June 21 and July 7.
o Called for a public hearing on the 2013 improvement program for 5:30 p.m. March 11, when residents can voice their opinions.
Included in the street plans for this year is reconstruction of Elm Street, from First Street to the railroad tracks. The assessment will be $75 per frontage foot.
Resurfacing is planned for Cardinal Street, from Prairie Avenue to Charles Street; Cedar Park Road, from Lake Aires Road to Arthur Street; Roland Avenue, from East Interlaken Road to Dorothy Street; and Southwood Drive, from Cottage Street to the dead end. The assessment will be $50 per frontage foot.
Two overlay projects are slated, for Canyon Drive, from Fairlakes Avenue to Hengen Street; and Parkwood Place, from East Amber Lake Drive to the dead end. The assessment will be $30 per frontage foot.
Seal coating will take place throughout Fairmont, on portions of the following roads: Main Street, Lake Avenue, Torgerson Drive, Hengen Street, Geraldine Street, Martin Street, Stella Street, Sylvan Drive, Sylvia Street, Valley View Court; Victoria Street, Cory Lane, South Armstrong Drive, Albion Avenue, Dorothy Street, Poetter's Circle, Third Street, Fourth Street, Adams Avenue, Cadillac Avenue, Charles Street, Christina Street, Goldfinch Street and Patriot Drive. Seal coating also will be done to the street department parking lot, Cedar Creek Park trails, city parking lot D, Albion Bike Trail, and at Lincoln Park. The assessment will be $2 per frontage foot.