Business owner wants chance to bid on such projects

A local business owner on Monday took issue with one of the city’s purchasing practices.

Brian Phillips, the owner of Express Sign & Neon, 119 S. 15th St., went before members of the city council upset that he hadn’t had a chance to bid on the design and manufacture of 198 promotional banners that hang from the light poles along downtown thoroughfares like Main Street, Second Street and the Riverwalk.

The banners change throughout the year, highlighting various seasons, events or city attractions.

City council member Tim Salters expressed surprise when it came time to pay the claims as he saw a bill from Ewing Printing for $9,830.

“I just thought we were going to discuss this a little more,” Salters told at-large council member Shirley Rose, who has, for years, handled the purchase of those banners and other promotional materials for the city.

Rose, however, seemed equally as surprised at the unexpected hullabaloo.

“We talked about this. I showed you the banners,” she said to both Salters and to Brian Grove, who also expressed confusion.

Any purchase under $25,000, the city isn’t forced to take on an expensive letting process, so Rose has, for years, she said, gone to Ewing Printing for the purchase of promotional materials and banners.

“That’s just always how we’ve done it,” she said.

“Well, I’m not against the banners. I’m not against Ewing, they do a great job,” Grove said. “I’d just like to see some other businesses have a chance to bid on those. I’d like to see some of that business spread out.”

Phillips alleges that he’s had previous conversations with Rose about his interest in making those same banners, but to no avail.

“I’ve talked to Shirley numerous times asking to bid this stuff, and she refuses,” he said.

Phillips said by not soliciting other prices, the council is essentially “hand-selecting” a business to receive $10,000.

“But there are others of us in town paying taxes on our buildings, employing people,” Phillips said, adding that he’d just donated all of the signage for the new pickleball courts at Gregg Park.

“We’re out here trying to be good stewards, but it seems like we get run over on all this stuff.”

Rose, a Democrat, is being challenged by Salters, a Republican, in the upcoming General Election for one of three at-large seats on the council, was adamant, however, that she thought she was in line with state law by not soliciting other bids from other businesses for the banners.

And city attorney Dave Roellgen said she wasn’t necessarily wrong.

State law does allow cities to avoid an expensive letting process — a long, legal process by which businesses are informed of and allowed to submit a quote for the scope of work — for projects that don’t exceed certain amounts; this purchase would be one of them, Roellgen said.

But seeking quotes from other businesses, he said, would be more appropriate, especially if the market allows for it.

“As a matter of fact, you should get 3-4, if possible,” he said.

But with the banners already done and purchased, council members tabled the discussion, likely to be picked up the next time such a purchase is made.

WASHINGTON AVE. FACELIFT

City officials also on Monday paid their first major claim associated with a upcoming facelift of Washington Avenue.

Council members appropriated $100,000 from its share of Economic Development Income Tax dollars to pay for the first stages of the design of a Washington Avenue reconstruction, set to get under way in 2022.

“Even though you don't see work going on out there,” Mayor Joe Yochum said, “there is still design, stuff that has to be paid for now.”

Locals shouldn't expect to see actual construction for another three years, but an engineering contract with Indianapolis-based United Consulting was signed earlier this year.

That contract is for just over $753,000, and will handle all aspects of the project — design, right-of-way acquisition and an environmental impact study — all the way through to construction.

Improvements will be made to the section from Emison Avenue near the Washington Christian Center north to Belle Crossing and include a totally new road bed as well as curbs and gutters, bike lanes, new lighting, sidewalks, better storm water drainage and sanitary sewers.

City officials announced a year ago that they'd been successful in securing a $5.7 million grant to pay for the long-awaited reconstruction. That area, too, is often plagued with potholes.

To cover the city's 20 percent match, estimated at $1.3 million, Yochum has said he will set aside EDIT dollars each year until the project begins.

City officials targeted that section of Washington Avenue for the $7 million project because it's so heavily traveled — both by motorists and pedestrians.

Yochum did, however, offer a reminder that the largely grant-funded endeavor comes as an 80/20 project, so everything the city pays out right now, they will eventually get 80 percent back from INDOT.

The council also on Monday approved a zoning change request from a local resident.

Andrea Stephens has reached an agreement with the seller to purchase a home at 715 Seminary St., but per the deal, it must first be rezoned from commercial to residential, specifically C-1 to R-2.

The Area Plan Commission met last week regarding the proposal and gave it a positive recommendation.

County surveyor and APC member Dick Vermillion said that area, essentially in and around Seventh and Seminary streets, was “spot-zoned” in 1967, according to minutes given to the city council by APC executive director Colt Michaels.

Vermillion also noted that the city council had been urged by the APC “years ago” to rezone most of those structures as residential, despite being zoned commercial, because they had been used as residences for “as long as anyone could remember,” Michaels noted.

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