City in NY rejects fire truck bids to preserve grant

The city will start over with new specifications; may have to repay grant if it aims too high

By Thomas J. Prohaska
The Buffalo News

LOCKPORT, N.Y. — After a federal warning that its previous bidding process might cause it to lose a $247,500 grant, the Common Council voted unanimously Wednesday to reject existing bids for a new fire truck.

The city will start over with new specifications, Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano said as he advised the Council to pull the plug on the previous bids.

Alderman Andrew D. Chapman warned his colleagues that the bids were rigged to produce a certain brand of truck that Fire Chief Thomas J. Passuite wanted, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which supplied the grant, might not stand for it.

Chapman was right.

An e-mail to Ottaviano from David N. Gronsbell, FEMA fire program specialist, said, "If the purchase specifies a brand name product or the proposed award is to be awarded to other than the apparent low bidder [the city] may find their expenditures questioned and subsequently disallowed."

The city was trying to do both of those things. Ottaviano had previously ruled that the bid process was legal under state law — he said Wednesday that he hasn't changed his mind — but Gronsbell wrote that federal regulations are tougher than Albany's.

He said the city's process might not pass muster, and it might end up having to repay the grant.

"Government worked the way it's supposed to work," said Chapman, R-4th Ward. "I hope the checks and balances will be beneficial to the city."

Mayor Michael W. Tucker said he thought the city should have forced the first round of bids through.

"I think [Chapman] probably was right, but if it goes to FEMA, they won't say anything. Stuff like this happens all the time," Tucker said. But he said Chapman's public complaint and his e-mail to FEMA made Lockport "a target."

Tucker said he talked to Passuite on Wednesday and decided that the new specifications should be drawn up by an outside consultant instead of internally by Passuite and fellow firefighters.

Tucker said, "I think we'll be paying somebody to do it. [Passuite] talked to some of his fire chief buddies and got three quotes: $8,500, $11,000 and $12,000."

Passuite wanted the Council to buy a $529,000 Pierce Manufacturing pumper truck from Churchville Fire Equipment. His bid specifications, copied from Pierce's Web site, called for a Hercules foam pumping system made by Pierce.

Another dealer, Gorman Enterprises, bid $449,000 in offering a KME Fire Apparatus truck with a different foam system.

KME wrote the Council a letter last week asking for a chance to make a presentation to defend the quality of its merchandise.

No one was able to say whether the new round of bids will produce a less expensive truck. Chapman said he volunteered to review the specs before the bids go out.

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