The Wisconsin Underground Contractors Association will ask Congress to ban bid preferences by amending the Clean Water Act, the association’s top official says.
Richard Wanta, WUCA’s executive director, said the Milwaukee city ordinance has cost taxpayers an additional $83,087.
“That would fix a lot of potholes or buy some new squad cars,” Wanta said Friday.
Wanta’s comments followed the city of Milwaukee’s denial of an appeal by two contractors that lost a contract for a combined sewer relay project on North 14th Street between Cherry and Vliet streets and on Cherry Street between 13th and 14th streets.
It was the ninth unsuccessful appeal of a contract awarded under the 2009 ordinance that gives a 5 percent bid preference to Milwaukee-based businesses if the difference is $25,000 or less.
The contract was awarded to Milwaukee-based MJ Construction Inc., which bid $155,369. MJ’s owner, Michael Tomasini, could not be reached Friday. An employee answering the phone at the company’s office said no one would be available until Monday.
United Sewer & Water Inc., Menomonee Falls, was the low bidder at $150,012. United Sewer and another bidder, American Sewer Services Inc., Rubicon, appealed the award to MJ. American Sewer was the high bidder at $164,373.
Pat Curley, chief of staff for Mayor Tom Barrett, said the preference ordinance helps Milwaukee-based businesses and should encourage other businesses to move to the city. He said he knew nothing about WUCA’s efforts to lobby Congress.
In April, Milwaukee County Circuit Judge William Pocan ruled the city has the right to give bid preferences when using low-interest state Clean Water Fund money.
Scott Maly, vice president of United Sewer, said losing the latest contract will force him to lay off workers who live in Milwaukee.
“This whole idea seems to be such an economic contradiction,” Maly said. “The city is closing firehouses and forcing city workers to take furloughs at the same time that they are paying more than they have to for public works projects. It doesn’t make sense.”
Maly said WUCA also would lobby the state Legislature to ban preferences.
“We know we have support in the Legislature,” Maly said. “Whether it passes is another matter.”
The appeal argued that federal Clean Water Act money obtained as a low-interest loan cannot be used if a local preference also is employed.
Kathy Block, an assistant city attorney, said the issue was considered before the ordinance was adopted in 2009.
“Because this is a loan funneled through the DNR (Department of Natural Resources), our analysis is that the local preference can be used,” Block said. “We confirmed our analysis with the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency).”
Wanta questioned who at the EPA had made the ruling and said he asked for supporting documentation.
Dawn Schueller, a spokeswoman for Sen. Herb Kohl, was unaware of the specifics of the contract but said federal grants do not allow preferences, but loans are “somewhat more flexible.”