New Milford mayor aims to trim tree costs
Updated 11:49 pm, Wednesday, February 10, 2016
NEW MILFORD — A tree-service company is fighting the town’s decision to reject its low bid for a tree-trimming contract because of what Mayor David Gronbach called “discrepancies” between the bid and what it was paid in previous years.
In January, Gronbach and the town’s purchasing authority awarded the tree-service bid to Emmons Tree Service, even though Gentile Tree Care had a lower bid and was recommended by the Department of Public Works. Gronbach said at the time Gentile had been paid tens of thousands of dollars more each year since 2011 than it bid for the work.
Gentile was again awarded the bid in 2014 and 2015 for $58,740 each year. However, the town paid $124,000 in 2014 and $130,000 last year.
Gronbach said some of the discrepancies can be attributed to emergency work following large storms, but there was not enough detail in the documentation available to determine what the rest of the work was for.
As a result, Gronbach said, he was unwilling to give Gentile the contract for 2016.
He also said that while Gentile’s proposal of $80,700 was lower than Emmons’ total bid of $87,700, the two were nearly identical in the cost to remove 40 to 50 trees, which the mayor said was the typical yearly average. He also said Emmons had a lower hourly rate than Gentile.
“I’m looking at what was paid and what was bid,” Gronbach said at Tuesday night’s Town Council meeting. “If you look at the detailed bids (from Gentile and Emmons), they are basically the same. It is a judgment call to go with Emmons in the best interest of the town.”
Marcus urged Gronbach and the Town Council to reconsider their decision, and to at least rebid the contract. He also offered to meet with the mayor to review the findings of both of their investigations.
“If you’re going to take the bid that is higher, it makes no sense to me when the lower bid is qualified and is a local contractor,” Marcus said. “The other option my client has is to take the matter to court to determine if he has been damaged by the way the bid process has been handled.”
Gronbach said he has not completed his review of the invoices, partially because the bills lacked necessary information such as what trees were removed and their size, which determines the cost.
Gronbach said the town bears some responsibility for not requiring that this information be included, but also said it would be in New Milford’s best interest to start fresh with Emmons.
“We have to work with (the DPW and Parks and Recreation Department) in terms of the practical issues they face,” Gronbach said. “Right now, that’s a work in progress. We’re working out a system to make sure these discrepancies don’t repeat themselves. It might be time to hit the restart button.”
Gronbach has also said Sam Gentile acted “unprofessionally” after the town rejected his company’s bid.
Gronbach said Gentile’s wife called the mayor’s office the next day and “abused” the staff. Gronbach also said Gentile’s wife came to his office and “yelled” at him.
Some residents at Tuesday night’s meeting accused the mayor of holding a personal grudge against Gentile dating back to a court case when the Gentiles testified against a client of Gronbach, who is an attorney.
The mayor didn’t deny his prior experience with Gentile was a factor, but reiterated it was one of many issues he had with the contractor.
“They testified in a case in which I was involved in and a jury rejected his testimony flat out,” Gronbach said. “So I use that for what it is. It raises an issue of credibility. But it’s certainly not the only issue that led to this decision. But I can’t divorce myself from that experience.”
Staff Writer Susan Tuz contributed to this report.
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