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Consultant comes under fire by city for escalating costs
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A consultant was squirming in the hot seat Sept. 8 as members of the Ceres City Council held his feet to the fire about a change order that significantly jacks up the pricetag.

Pacific Municipal Consultants (PMC) was hired by the council in March, 2007 to study and update the city's public facilities fees. The fees are charged to new development to help pay for new infrastructure caused by growth and must be updated periodically. PMC estimated that the work would be done in about four months for $39,865. But last week - 14 months later - the firm requested for a change order adding $46,677 to the contract. Councilmen were incredulous.

While $19,250 of that new amount extra work requested by the city, $27,427 was for work done without city permission. An upset Mayor Anthony Cannella said the firm should have come to the city months ago to get permission to expand the contract.

"Why did you think that you could grossly go beyond the original contract and think it would be okay?" pressed Mayor Cannella.

Tom Bandy, manager of PMC, defended the change order, saying his firm had to do more work to develop information needed to do the study. PMC, said Bandy, also had to spend more time to address questions and concerns of the Building Industry Association. Still, Bandy accepted some of the blame and suggested that PMC would "eat" $13,750 of extra work.

"That's my fault," said Bandy. "This project has not been our normal product."

Bandy said he allowed civil engineer Dino Serafini, head of the project, to "run too far" because the city did not have all the information necessary.

Bandy rejected one city staff members' suggestion that PMC "low balled" the contract. He noted that of the last 10 contracts with other cities to do the same work, the firm's prices averaged $35,000 to $45,000. Ceres' was in the middle of the range.

PMC discovered "deficiencies" in the city's information base after the contract was awarded and after work started in April 2007. Cannella, himself a civil engineer, charged that Bandy's firm didn't do its homework.

"It's almost like PMC looked at this project and offered a proposal based on no analysis of existing documents," said Mayor Cannella. "That seems unusual."

Bandy said he was told by city staff that the "information is out there; you have to go get it." But he later learned that the information "was in a form that was either no longer valid or needed a lot of work."

Ken Craig, director of Community Development, tried to take some of the blame for not catching the magnitude of the unauthorized extra work. "I have not been managing this project as I should have," said Craig.

Cannella refused to accept Craig's claim, saying: "I disagree. You've hired professionals to do a project. Why would you check with them to make sure they're still within the budget. It makes no sense to me."

Cannella kept pressing Bandy about why PMC came back to the city so late in the process. Bandy replied that he didn't have "a simple answer" but noted "we didn't want to stop - we had a lot of momentum going."

Bandy said that 18 months into the work that his company is nearing the end of the study. He stated that the study is taking much longer to complete missing information.

"I think we've come out with a good product for you," said Bandy, "and you've got a lot of information in this report that will benefit you."

City Attorney Michael Lyions said the city is not legally bound to pay more than the contract amount but didn't dismiss the possibilty of a lawsuit from PMC.

Ceres resident Steve Breckenridge urged the council not to pay the consultant for the extra work. "And if that means litigation should be involved, that's a worthy battle," said the former council candidate.

Vice Mayor Chris Vierra said PMC is a respectable firm but expressed concerns about its handling of the contract. He said that while the firm was responsible for researching before submitting its proposal, it could not have known what was lacking in the city's data base.

Councilman Guillermo Ochoa took a forgiving tone. "We're a professional city. Unfortunately they were overzealous in doing a good job for us. They offered to meet us halfway."

Mayor Cannella softened his tone by the end of the discussion and told Bandy, "I want to do what's fair." He said he'd go along with paying the extra work of $19,250 and would give them a chance to produce evidence to justify the $27,427 at the meeting on Sept. 22.