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Town loses fire equipment due to bidding error

Sept. 14, 2010

The Town of Vernon, which is arguably already cutting it close when it comes to setting up its own fire department, faced another setback last week after a clerical error cost it close to $200,000 in used equipment.

Vernon and the Village of Big Bend are splitting up the fire equipment as they prepare for the disbanding of their joint fire department at the end of this year. At this point, the communities are planning to set up individual departments. There has been talk of a possible contract between the two communities; however, nothing has been officially decided.

As part of the process for dividing up the equipment, the two municipalities were each given flash drives that held a document to mark their bids on fire department equipment, explained Fire Board President Ed Moline. This process was to keep the bids as sealed as possible, he said. The two communities then met with the Fire Board last Thursday to go over the bids.

Town Supervisor Tom Bird was designated to select the pieces of equipment and other Fire Department items for the town.

"There was a clerical error in filling out the bid sheet," explained Town Chairman Fred Michalek. "As a result, we didn't get certain items."

Village President James Soneberg explained the process outlined for the communities by the Fire Board. For the trucks and tankers, etc., the two communities could bid just once for not only the apparatus but for all of the equipment on that particular apparatus. Everything was included as a package, he said.

But for other things, such as equipment in the bay, the bunk room and the chief's office, they could either bid on the individual items or on everything. If they wanted everything, there was a spot to indicate that, he said.

"He (Tom Bird) did not follow the directions as explained by the Fire Board," Soneberg said. "That cost the Town of Vernon turnout gear, radios, pagers and hoses. The village ended up with all that equipment."

Soneberg said that the items bid on by the village were discussed first. During that discussion, Bird attempted to make changes to his bid on his flash drive, but he was not allowed to do so, said Soneberg.

Michalek said that although he didn't have an exact figure, the total amount of equipment not bid on was about $180,000 worth.

He noted that the town will make that back because of the funding formula, which allocates proceeds from the sale of equipment back to the two communities when the department dissolves. Under that formula, the town will receive about 83 percent and the village 17 percent, based on property values, the number of residents and number of calls to each community

Town residents are concerned the blunder will set the town back.

"Because of this amateurish mistake by our Town Board committee led by Tom Bird, we don't have any equipment for a new fire department," wrote Mike Doble, member of the Vernon for Sensible Government Committee. "How is the Town of Vernon going to afford to buy all new equipment for a fire department, get this set up, and be ready for fire coverage by Jan. 1?"

Michalek said what's next is for the town to get prices to replace those items. In total, the Village of Big Bend received $286,000 worth of equipment at the appraisal rate.

Last week's meeting was just the first step in the appraisal process. Those items bid on by only one community will go to that community, but the items bid on by both communities will need to be bid on in a sealed bid and will be determined in a closed session meeting Sept. 21.

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