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Auburn contract-bid petition won't be on warrant

Union Leader Correspondent

January 14. 2013 9:20PM

AUBURN - After the failure of a warrant article petition, Auburn will continue to lack a policy requiring the town to put town work out for bidding.

Auburn residents concerned with the town's lack of a competitive bidding policy on town work will not see the question on this year's town ballot, as a petition that intended to require the town to adopt such a policy was rejected after some signatures were found to be invalid.

The town currently has no policy requiring town work to be put out to bid, nor is it required to by state law.

The petition would have had the town adopt "a competitive bidding policy requiring that the town and all its departments utilize a competitive bidding system for the expenditure of funds for acquisitions of property, equipment, services, repairs, construction, maintenance, road construction, road repairs, road maintenance, goods, etc." to put all of its expenditures out to bid, including the acquisition of property and equipment, and contracts for town construction and road repair.

The submitted article will not appear on the town ballot, however, and the time for resubmission has passed.

Warrant article petitions require the signatures of 25 registered voters to be eligible for the town ballot. The petition was submitted with 25 signatures, but the town clerk discovered upon review that two of the signatories were not registered voters, invalidating them from the count.

According to Town Administrator Bill Hermon, however, even if the petition had been approved by the town clerk, it would not have had the authority to make the change regardless.

"By (state) statue, the authority for all expenditures is the board of selectmen's," said Hermon. "The voters do not actually have the statutory authority to adopt that kind of ordinance."

Hermon was referring to the New Hampshire Municipal Budget Act, which vests the town government with the authority to manage and spend municipal dollars - specifically, authorizing the budget committee to develop and recommend a budget and the selectmen or town council to approve and administer it.

Some contracts, such as auditing, engineering or insurance, do go out to bid in Auburn, but according to Hermon, the bidding process does not necessarily make fiscal sense with every project.

"If you were going to put road work out to bid, there's a big expense up front to the extent that if you're going to be fair in a bid process, you're going to have to . give all the bidders the same set of standards on which to bid," he said. "So there's going to be detailed plans and expectations with (engineering) costs between $10,000 to $20,000 per project. . So there's a pretty big expense before you can even begin the physical work."

Instead of bidding, Auburn has a system where it sets fixed rates for its purchases and its work which contractors must agree to at the outset.

"We're not putting things out to bid, (but) we're predetermining the price beforehand," Hermon said.

He also noted that with construction work, the town buys all the materials, saving money where a vendor would typically charge a markup. "That's usually where the money is made in a bid: the markups," he said. "There are no markups the way we do it."

The petition was submitted by Auburn Police Officer Greg Santuccio on the evening of Jan. 8, the final day petitions could be submitted to appear on the town ballot.

Santuccio could not be reached for comment.

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