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Wells grilled on need for consultants
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A flurry of contract extensions with several consultants who do work for the city prompted a short discussion at the June 23 Ceres City Council meeting about costs and workloads.

The council pondered retainer consultant services with two firms, Engeo, Inc., and Kleinfelder, Inc., for materials testing linked with 15 to 20 capital improvement projects being undertaken by the city in the next year. The cost of such testing would be between $2,500 and $5,000 per project, said City Manager Toby Wells, who still has the dual role as city engineer.

Also up for consideration was a one-year extension to the retainer consultant services with OMNI-Means Engineers & Planners. Another was one-year extensions for four engineering firms - Provost & Pritchard Consulting Group, O'Dell Engineering, GDR Engineering, and Interwest Consulting Group. Wells said with nearly 40 upcoming city projects that need engineering services.

Councilman Mike Kline questioned if the firms are being re-evaluated before the extensions are granted and seemed bothered by not looking for other firms to possibly do the work.

Wells mentioned that the council has discretion about extending one-year extensions. He said the city did seek Requests for Proposals from other firms and noted Kleinfelder was still considered on the top of the list.

Ceres resident Len Shepherd asked what the OMNI contract was about. Currently the firm is designing a system to better synchronize traffic signal lights in Ceres.

"All of the timing citywide is being reviewed," said Wells when Shepherd suggested too much time is spent at red lights.

Shepherd then charged that the city seems to hire too many consultants.

"I'm just wondering when are we going to start taking a look at maybe just one consultant to do several things?" said Shepherd. "Are we that much indebted to consultants? ... Aren't there any local people on our staff or anything that can do something? I'd say we're spending millions over a period of time on consultants."

Councilman Ken Lane said "there is stuff we don't have the manpower to do."

Wells said the engineers were designing capital projects to enhance life in Ceres.

"So if I were to provide this same level of service that these four design companies provide for us, I would need to have a staff of about 20 in my engineering department," said Wells. "I currently have five."

For the capital improvement projects running $8 million to $10 million per year, Wells said the consultants' costs are far less than the typical 10 percent of construction costs on engineering.

"So in the grand scheme things we are still very efficient and cost effective," said Wells. "Unless there is a direction from this council that they would like to see me to change and grow this city in terms of staffing at a significant level, then the need for consultants will continue to be able to deliver the capital improvement projects."

With this year's CIP schedule topping out at $20 million, consultants will increase, said Wells.