Dirt Pile Removal: Did the City of Keyser handle the bidding process properly?

Liz Beavers
Mineral Daily News-Tribune
It cost the City of Keyser $17,600 to have contractor J.R. Lucas level out the dirt pile which Mineral County's commissioners had allowed the city to dump on the former tennis courts back in 2013. Some city residents have since questioned whether the city legally handled the bid process.

KEYSER - The $17,600 cost for Keyser to have the dirt pile  leveled on county-owned property along Route 46  was legally under the state threshold for requiring bids to be advertised.

The decision to go with the lowest contractor who did submit a bid, however, was never officially passed by the Keyser City Council.

Since the council contracted with J.R. Lucas last month to level out the dirt which the city had dumped on the former tennis courts back in 2013, some residents of the city questioned why the job wasn’t advertised for bids.

Instead, the city officials merely said during their Aug. 11 meeting that they had obtained two bids for the job but, at the time, did not take a vote or reveal the amounts of the bids because they weren’t sure at the time how they were going to handle the county’s request to level the dirt.

Since that meeting, the dirt has been leveled out, and council member Jim Hannas revealed last week that the cost had been $17,600.

“We did call and take bids …I called four local contractors, but two didn’t want to do it because their dozer wasn’t big enough,” he said.

“Two contractors did … and they both put in sealed bids.”

According to Hannas, those bids were from Mineral Fabrication for $19,000 and J.R. Lucas for $17,600.

“The bid was awarded to J.R.,” Hannas said.

The decision to accept that lowest bid was apparently made over the telephone with the city officials, however, and not by official public vote.

“The city administrator called all of us and asked to move the dirt and to go with the cheapest price,” Hannas said.

And while the cost of the project would seem to be way above the threshold for advertising for bids set by city ordinance, Hannas said it is unclear exactly what that threshold is.

“I got the old ordinance book out … and it says $2,000 and then it was scratched out and said $5,000,” he said, adding that city administrator Jeff Broadwater is currently working on updating that ordinance and others.

Hannas questioned the low threshold, saying if that were the case the city would have to take bids on such purchases as chemicals, pipe, and even fire hydrants.

“A fire hydrant runs $2,800,” he said.

Council member and finance commissioner Mike Ryan pointed out, however, that the West Virginia State Auditor’s Office said the state requires anything over $25,000 to be advertised for bid.

According to the state code 5-22-4(c), “The state and its subdivisions shall … solicit competitive bids for every construction project exceeding $25,000 in cost.”

The code also defines “the state and its subdivisions” to include all municipalities.

Hannas said Lucas’ bid was an exceptionally good price.

“There was 30,000 cubic yards of dirt up there and they moved it for 57 cents a cubic yard. That’s unreal. Anybody can look it up; it costs at least $1 or $1.50 or more.”

Noting their need to get the dirt leveled out quickly so the county could proceed with plans to construct a storage facility on the property, Hannas said, “If I made a mistake, I’m sorry. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong.

“But I don’t think I was wrong.”

Liz Beavers is a veteran writer and managing editor of the Mineral Daily News Tribune. You can check out her bio and more of her work at https://www.newstribune.info/staff/6477370002/liz-beavers/. To reach out to her with a story idea, email lbeavers@newstribune.info.