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Audit: Suffolk paid $198,200 too much for storm mitigation plan

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and county Comptroller

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and county Comptroller John M. Kennedy. Photo Credit: Composite: Howard Schnapp; James Escher

Suffolk County Comptroller John M. Kennedy says in an audit that the Bellone administration paid $198,200 too much to update county storm-mitigation plans by halting a request for proposals (RFP) in midstream and using a contractor who cost nearly twice as much as other bidders.

But John Jordan, Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services commissioner, criticized the findings as “inaccurate” and “misleading.” Jordan said the contractor who was chosen was highly experienced. The selection prevented delays and allowed massive post-superstorm Sandy storm work — all funded by grants — to finish on time, he said.

The disputed findings came in an audit of FRES procurement practices from 2012 to 2015, to determine if superstorm Sandy expenses charged to the state were proper.

Kennedy, a Republican, is challenging Democratic County Executive Steve Bellone this fall.

Kennedy called the findings, “just another example of Bellone administration refusing to abide by the rules requiring arms length practices in soliciting for services.” 

Bellone spokesman Jason Elan called the “supposed audit … nothing more than a thinly disguised hatchet job that completely ignores key facts and mischaracterizes others.”

Elan noted that the audit came four years and the audit period ended, and accused Kennedy of using his office for “partisan political purposes.”

Kennedy acknowledged the audit was delayed, but said it was suspended while the district attorney reviewed alleged time and attendance irregularities for Sandy repair work. He also noted a state review of grants that lasted from 2016 until 2019.

The audit said the administration in September 2013 stopped the RFP process after advertising and soliciting three proposals to update the county hazard mitigation plan.

Had the RFP been used, the audit said, the work “should have been awarded to Witt O’Brien,” a subcontractor already vetted by the county as part of an earlier disaster recovery contract with Universal Management Technology Solutions Inc.

Witt O’Brien’s proposal for updating Suffolk’s storm mitigation plan was $200,750, while Tetra Tech Inc. bid $393,579. The audit found Tetra Tech’s final cost was $398,950. Kennedy aides said the third bidder proposed $197,000 but was deemed less experienced.

The county decided the work to update the storm plan should be done under the existing Universal Management contract; the agreement was changed so that Tetra Tech was installed to do the work, rather than Witt O'Brien, the audit said.

The audit called the use of Tetra Tech “highly questionable” since it was not vetted as the original contract required. Allowing Universal “to change subcontractors questions the validity and fairness of the contract awards,” the audit said.

In a written response to the report, Jordan said there was, “absolutely no basis” to conclude Witt O’Brien’s lower-priced proposal would have been chosen, noting other factors are involved the selection process.

Tetra tech “would likely have been selected” as a “well-known expert in the field of hazard mitigation planning.”

Jordan also said Universal Management’s contract allowed changing subcontractors, and that Tetra Tech already was working with Southampton and other towns, which helped expedite the county work. Suffolk halted the RFP because it would have required a new contract and months of delay, said Jordan.

“Given the time constraints involved, it would have been imprudent not to use the existing contract,” Jordan said.

Auditors said Witt O’Brien also is a “nationally renowned firm” and was properly vetted.

Regardless of the ultimate selection, the RFP should have been opened “in the best interest of taxpayers” and both firms should have been asked for a “best and final offer” to get the best price. the report said.

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