Commissioners question 911 phone update bid process

One of the early mantras of the new Wright County Board of Commissioners has been that business as usual will no longer be business as usual.
Past practices are going to change and one of the goals of the new commissioners has been to look at longstanding contracts the county has had and look at the option of rebidding the contracts in hopes of luring more local bidders.
At the Feb. 19 meeting of the county board, the commissioners questioned the process in which the county is bidding the upgrades needed to the county’s 911 emergency phone system.
Information Technology Director Bill Swing came to the board with a request to hire the consulting firm of Elert & Associates to oversee the bid process for the new system, despite having only two potential bidders.
Swing and Todd Hoffman of the sheriff’s department were pressed by Commissioners Mark Daleiden and Charlie Borrell as to the need to pay $3,500 for a consultant when there are so few bidders for an upgrade expected to cost about $90,000.
“I don’t see why we need to a hire a consultant to tell us what we need,” Daleiden said.
“I could see if there were 15 or 20 companies that were bidding on this, but we have only two.”
Hoffman responded that the county doesn’t have the in-house expertise to handle the comprehensive bid package, which includes several components for the emergency calling system.
Elert has that expertise and having the bidders explain their product wouldn’t be objective.
“If we were to do it that way, the salesmen for the different firms would be selling the idea of their product and that it would cure all the problems we have,” Hoffman said.
“They could make promises that, a year or so down the line, we would find out they couldn’t keep and the product they promised wouldn’t be what they delivered.” he said. “Elert has the expertise in this field and is highly recommended by other counties in the state that have used them. They’re better equipped to determine which company would fit our needs in Wright County.”
After some debate, the commissioners agreed, voting unanimously to retain Elert & Associates to oversee the bid process.
In other items on the Feb. 19 board meeting, the board:
• Authorized a $50,000 loan to PTI Inc. of Hanover through the Wright County Economic Development Partnership. The WCEDP has been in operation since the mid-1990s and has provided low-interest loans through its revolving loan fund. The fund currently has $175,000 in it and has two existing loans that are currently being repaid.
•  Received an update on County Ditch 10 south of Howard Lake. The ditch is in need of a cleanup that is estimated as high as $90,000, but almost $40,000 of that estimate would be for tree removal in and along the ditch. It is hoped that a minimal cleanup will get the ditch functioning properly, because, if a redetermination of benefits is done and the county would have to purchase the land on either side of the ditch (by law 16½ feet on both sides of the ditch), the cost would skyrocket to an estimated $400,000. The board approved proceeding with the cheapest of the current options in hopes that the problems can be resolved.
• Authorized the administration department to draft a letter to department heads requesting a response whether or not to allow sheriff’s department staff 24/7 access via key cards to the different departments in the county courthouse. A couple of recent incidents have heightened concern that certain areas within the courthouse deny access to sheriff’s department personnel. The request was made by Sheriff Joe Hagerty, who claimed that, in the event of an emergency, certain areas of the courthouse would be unavailable for law enforcement to enter and could create a potential life-threatening situation if a criminal gained access to an office that law enforcement would not be able to enter.
• Accepted the minutes of the Feb. 5 parks committee of the whole meeting. The meeting was designed to get the four new county commissioners up to speed on the history and future of the Bertram Chain of Lakes Regional Parks project.
• Approved a three-year agreement with CenturyLink Inc. for the county’s local and long distance land-line phone service.
• Set the annual county auction for 10 a.m. Saturday, June 15 at the Public Works Building in Buffalo. The auction primarily sells off items seized by the sheriff’s department, as well as used vehicles and equipment that the county has replaced.

Freelancer John Holler covers government and the Wright County Board of Commissioners.