Concerns table county bid to build Sabinal center

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The Socorro County Commission tabled the county’s award of a contract to build the Sabinal Community Center during the commission’s regular meeting May 14 after concerns were raised about the lowest bidder.

County attorney Adren Nance said the county went out to bid on the contract, but during the process discovered the lowest bidder, Ramstone Inc., did not list its subcontractors. The county procurement office then sent Ramstone a letter explaining its bid was thrown out in favor of the next lowest bidder, Advanced Environmental Solutions.

Nance said under the law, the county cannot accept a bid from a company that doesn’t list its subcontractors — unless the amount paid to the subcontractors falls under the threshold set by the state procurement code. He said at the time, the county procurement office had no indication Ramstone was under the threshold.

The threshold is a percentage of the project cost or $5,000; for this project, the threshold is $5,000. Nance said Ramstone filed a protest stating they did not list subcontractors because they would mainly do the work in house, and therefore fall below the $5,000 threshold. County manager Delilah Walsh said Ramstone was purchasing all the materials rather than the subcontractors, who were only quoting labor costs; their labor quotes did not exceed $5,000.

Nance said Ramstone filed an affidavit, and the county procurement office called the company’s subcontractors to verify everything was true, which it was. The procurement office then accepted Ramstone’s bid.

Nance said AES then filed a protest stating Ramstone had not promptly responded to the procurement office’s request for information about the company’s subcontractors. He explained the procurement office had mistakenly mailed its information request to Ramstone’s physical address, not its P.O. box, so the company didn’t receive it. Once that was remedied, however, Nance said Ramstone did promptly respond. He added that even if Ramstone hadn’t responded promptly, that wouldn’t be a valid reason to reject the lowest bid.

Nance explained since the county is working with taxpayers’ money, it must always award the lowest bid unless there is something wrong. He said the county procurement office determined there was no valid reason to throw out Ramstone’s bid.

District 1 Commissioner Pauline Jaramillo said she heard Ramstone has bid jobs like this before, then looked for subcontractors afterward.

Nance said the procurement office investigated that aspect, and although Ramstone may have done that in the past, the company is not doing so on this occasion.

Jaramillo said she received calls about it during the week leading up to the commission meeting. She thought the county should rebid the contract.

Walsh said the county can only rebid the contract if the scope of the project changes.

Jaramillo said concerned callers told her Ramstone’s bids are always low because the company doesn’t name its subcontractors. The callers told Jaramillo the company looks for subcontractors later after the bid process, and some subcontractors Ramstone hires are not licensed to do the work.

District 2 Commissioner Martha Salas said she also received a couple of phone calls about Ramstone, noting a lot of people seem concerned about the company. Jaramillo added this is a small area and contractors are aware of what is happening in their business.

Salas said she wasn’t comfortable with awarding the bid to Ramstone, but the county has gone through every process it could and doesn’t have much choice but to award the bid.

Nance said the county could rescope the project and do something different than originally planned. However, without rescoping the project, he couldn’t see any way to throw out Ramstone’s bid without subjecting the county to “significant liability.”

Walsh said there is still a 30-day appeal period during which AES, the next lowest bidder, could appeal in court if they don’t like the county’s answer as to why the bid was going to Ramstone. She said the county could hold off on approving the contract award until the 30 days is up.

Walsh asked if the commission wanted county staff to rescope the project and rebid. She added the county can throw out its $5,000 threshold and ask companies submitting bids to just name their subcontractors. Jaramillo said she wanted to rebid because of what she’s heard about Ramstone.

District 4 Commissioner Daniel Monette asked about the legal ramifications for rescoping the project. Nance said the county has the right to rescope the project if county administration and the commission think aspects of it need to be changed.

“What we don’t want to be saying is we’re going to rebid it because we don’t like the results (of the bid process),” Nance said. “That’s where we don’t want to be.”

Salas said she has also heard from constituents who want to see the Sabinal Community Center get started.
Nance said no matter what, any project that involves the New Mexico procurement code takes time to get through.
Walsh mentioned Ramstone built the San Antonio fire station, which seemed to have turned out fine.

District 3 Commissioner Phillip Anaya motioned to table the matter, and commissioners passed the motion unanimously except for District 5 Commissioner Juan Gutierrez, who was absent from the meeting.
Nance said tabling the matter gives county administration more time to double check everything and make sure nothing is wrong with Ramstone’s bid.

In other business, the Socorro County Commission:

• Approved a resolution to merge the Mountainair and El Camino Real housing authorities. Mary Ann Chavez-Lopez, director of El Camino Real HA, made a presentation to the commission during its April 23 meeting about merging the housing authorities. El Camino Real HA currently serves Socorro and Valencia counties; it will also serve Torrance County once the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development approves the merger.

• Approved revisions to the county’s senior center policy manual. Walsh said the revisions clarify language and will not have a significant impact since they spell out things the county already does at the senior center.

• Approved renewal of the contract for jail inmate housing with Doña Ana County. Walsh noted Doña Ana County’s rates for housing detainees went up quite a bit, which she predicted the county will see more as its housing contracts with other counties come up. She remarked it was another good reason for the county to build its new jail.

• Approved vendor checks issued between April 25 and May 10 in the amount of $692,333.55.

• Approved payroll for May 1 in the amount of $150,784.83.