The Hempstead Town Board on Tuesday night tabled a vote on hiring an auditor of the town building department, despite the objections of Supervisor Laura Gillen, who said the outside review could help the department operate more efficiently.
Board members expressed concern about the job not going to the lowest bidder, however, and said the town’s compliance officer should review the matter before they award the contract.
The board voted 5-1 to delay a vote on the contract until its Feb. 26 meeting, at the earliest. Councilman Bruce Blakeman was absent.
About a dozen residents spoke in favor of the audit at the meeting, saying the building department is slow to process permit applications and has left property owners in the dark about the extent of damage their homes suffered from superstorm Sandy in 2012.
At issue are the department's "preliminary damage assessments" of homes hit by Sandy. Some newer residents who purchased homes in the town after the storm were unaware those assessments deemed their new homes to have suffered "moderate" or "substantial" damage that required serious repairs until they'd filed permit application for unrelated matters, Gillen has said.
"Your community is unaware that they are in homes that are substantially damaged," said Elizabeth Treston, a volunteer with the South Shore Recovery Coalition advocacy group. "This has led to numerous delays in permits to rebuild after superstorm Sandy decimated the South Shore," she said.
"Six years later, we hoped procedures would be streamlined. Unfortunately that's not the case," Treston said.
Gillen has said the audit could identify ways to reduce long wait times for permits and make property information more readily available to residents — especially those in storm-damaged homes.
The contract was to go to Manhattan-based FTI Consulting, whose proposal for the job included a $155,000 fee, plus an additional $70 to $275 per hour.
A proposal by another bidder, Institute for Building Technology & Safety of Ashburn, Virginia, included a $39,400 fee and an additional $110 per hour.
Republican council members, who hold a majority on the board, questioned why the contract would not go to the lowest bidder.
"That disparity in bid prices causes me great concern," Councilman Ed Ambrosino said. "I think this is ripe for recommendation to the compliance officer."
Gillen, a Democrat, said the proposals were “thoroughly vetted” by a committee of officials from the town attorney’s office, her office and the building department.
Documents provided by the town show that the committee awarded FTI lower points in the category "cost" than the Institute for Building Technology & Safety, but higher points in "experience & qualifications" and "completion and understanding."