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Council grills staff over hike for consultant
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The Ceres City Council voted 5-0 last week to authorize the spending of an additional $50,000 annually on a contract with a firm charged with updates to computerized equipment to operate the water and sewer systems.

The city has an existing $100,000 contract with Industrial Automation Group for the SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) system which operates with coded signals over communication channels to provide control of remote equipment. The firm facilitates the repair and replacement of all computerized equipment that is used to remotely control water and sewer operations. The firm also is updating and keeping the operating system current to collect, display and call out alarm conditions to operators. The contract also calls for the replacement of equipment that any programmer can use, as opposed to equipment that could only be handled by one exclusive vendor.

City staff went to the council for permission to spend more with the contractor because extra work is being required.

Councilman Mike Kline initially asked where the extra costs were coming from and was told that the funds would come from the sewer and water enterprise funds that are being paid by Ceres ratepayers.

City Manager Toby Wells clarified that the contract is a "not to exceed" amount, which means the entire allotment may not be spent.

Kline asked why there was more work for the company. Wells responded that additional work was needed because of unforeseen jobs, such as the completion of well #32 at the Blaker Road reservoir, and rolling the new well into the SCADA system. The extra work because of the new well came to $35,000, which had not been anticipated earlier.

Even after the explanation, Kline persisted with follow-up questions, saying, "Why are we going ahead and for a lack of better terms writing a blank check or having an extra $50,000 for things that are unforeseen? Why can't we just leave it where it's at and as the need arises then we can do it?"

Wells said "the idea is we're paying for services they provide. The controls are they don't get paid if they don't do the work." He said upping the contract amount means staff won't have to keep coming back to the council for more money to authorize work.

Mayor Chris Vierra said he could understand Kline's concern if it was a "fixed fee" contract. But he said "this is staff saying we'd like the ability to have more funds to work on the SCADA system and we'll direct the consultant what they work will be when the time comes." He also stated that having to come back to the council could cause delays which could cause higher costs.

Kline appeared inquired if the extra $50,000 would take from other areas of need but was told no by Wells and told that the expenses is a "necessary cost to maintain our system." Wells reminded Kline that the water enterprise fund is $67 million for the year.

The contract affects 15 water pumping stations, eight remote water pressure sensing stations, 15 sewer lift stations and 39 storm water lift stations.

The issue became clouded when Ceres resident Len Shepherd commented on the matter and tied it to another matter of contract contingencies.

"We're too flippant with our money," said Shepherd. "It seems to me like every contract's got a 10 percent contingency."

"Mr. Shepherd, I think you're comparing apples and oranges here," said Mayor Vierra. "We're not talking about a fixed fee contract."

The mayor then gave a layman's example of the situation.
"Like budgeting for your car maintenance, you might say I'm gonna set aside $200 a year. Well, you're telling me tell me what I'm gonna spend that $200 on? Well, you don't know. It may be you need to change the tire or the windshield wiper blades or something."