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Milwaukee County inches toward bidding preference

Milwaukee County public works projects, such as those at General Mitchell International Airport, could see new bidding rules promoting local hiring under a proposal sponsored by two County Board supervisors.

Milwaukee County public works projects, such as those at General Mitchell International Airport, could see new bidding rules promoting local hiring under a proposal sponsored by two County Board supervisors. (File photo by Mike Rebholz)

By Sean Ryan

Milwaukee County soon could give a bidding advantage to the contractor that hires the most county residents for a project.

The goal of the county resolution, sponsored by Johnny Thomas and Theo Lipscomb, is to eventually offer a preference to public works contractors that hire people who live in the county and, by extension, funnel county money back into the local economy. For now, the two supervisors want a committee to draft rules similar to those on city of Milwaukee contracts requiring local workers participate on projects.

“This is nothing new,” Thomas said. “Contractors have dealt with this at the city, and it’s about time the county has really taken a stand that we are really impacting Milwaukee County.”

The resolution, he said, is particularly important because the county is about to borrow $90 million for construction projects through federal stimulus bonding. The county since 2003 has had a $30 million cap on its annual borrowing for projects.

The bidding preference would give an advantage to John Sackerson, president of Cudahy-based William Sackerson Construction Co. Inc., which bids on many county projects. County residents represent more than half of the company’s work force.

Sackerson said he has a mixed reaction to the resolution because, even though it gives him an edge, he believes contracts should be let to the lowest responsible bidder, with no strings attached.

“It’s just a matter of fairness,” he said, “but also a matter of economy to the entity that is putting the projects out to bid.”

Lipscomb said the county approved a resolution in 1996 setting a goal that half of the workers on county construction projects live in Milwaukee County. But the goal has never been enforced, he said. Past audits of county construction projects have shown that more than 60 percent of wages went to workers who live outside of the county, Lipscomb said.

Instead of making local hiring a requirement for contracts, he said, he prefers a bidding edge for companies that hire the most local workers.

“I would hope that the industry inside Milwaukee County would be very excited by it,” Lipscomb said.

Thomas and Lipscomb said the work group they want to assemble will work out the details of what preference the county can offer. Thomas said the preference for bidders that hire the most local workers could match the 5 percent price preference the city of Milwaukee gives companies in the city.

“We’re really looking at maybe mirroring that,” he said, “and I think there’s a benefit of giving a person some leeway. Maybe there is some training involved in hiring people from Milwaukee.”

The 5 percent bid preference for Milwaukee-based companies led to a lawsuit from sewer contractors and opposition from the Wisconsin Underground Contractors Association. Richard Wanta, WUCA’s executive director, said the county does not bid much sewer and water work, so the rule will not affect his membership. But, he said, the county should expect higher project costs.

Thomas said he wants the task force to work quickly to draft concrete rules for the board to consider this spring.

“We have the people available,” he said, “so why not get our own people working. This is how we stimulate the economy.”

But Sackerson said the county should proceed cautiously because contract requirements that go beyond the basic bricks and sticks carry a price.

“Just as a word of caution,” he said, “you say in the long run, all of these things have a cost to them.”

2 comments

  1. Robert Schuster

    So, if this passes and is enforced, then Waukesha County, Racine County and Ozaukee County will follow suit. Milwaukee workers will again get the short end of the stick!!

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