Niles Township debates $64,000 questionPublished 9:30am Thursday, September 10, 2009
By JESSICA SIEFF
Niles Daily Star
Niles Charter Township officials are at odds once again after some very old business found its way back before the board this week.
Township supervisor Jim Kidwell asked board members to approve a payment of $64,000 to Merritt Engineering Inc. of Stevensville for design and engineering work the company says it performed for a water expansion project for the then in-development Longmeadow site in 2006.
The project has long since been abandoned, the water expansion, as proposed, never having taken place. But arguments were heated Tuesday night when Kidwell brought the issue before the board again, as an outstanding payment to a “reputable” company was due to be paid.
“My opinion on it is our first obligation is to take care of the debt,” that he believes the township owes to Merritt Engineering, Kidwell said Wednesday afternoon.
In December 2006, when the Longmeadow Residential Condominium Development was a burgeoning site, developer Jane Tenney of Tenney Associates Inc. petitioned the City of Niles and Niles Township to provide water to the site.
The proposal included an extension, bringing water from the city’s line at Phillip Road, west along Niles-Buchanan Road to the site and creating a line intended to be maintained by the township.
According to Jim Ringler, township treasurer, a budget for the project amounted to $450,000 by Tenney Associates Inc.
A resolution presented to the board at that time by Ringler gave “tentative approval” for the project “provided that details of that agreement be negotiated between the township, the city and Tenney,” according to a Star article on the development.
The township, Ringler said at the time, had never dealt with anything like Tenney’s proposal.
What happened after the resolution was passed is where things start to get murky. Merritt Engineering entered the picture as the company to be used by the township for design and engineering. A contract regarding the project was sent to Merritt Engineering and in return officials received preliminary figures from the company for costs expected through the extension.
Construction costs were later received, and the total cost for the extension came in at a whopping $1.2 million – far exceeding Tenney’s budget.
That, Ringler said, is where the proposal was deemed “cost prohibitive,” and the entire idea abandoned.
It was June of 2007.
During that time, Kidwell said Merritt Engineering claimed to have performed its services including a collection of building permits for the project, and when the whole idea was dropped, “Merritt was left holding the bill,” he said.
Now officials are at odds on whether or not the township owes what Merritt Engineering said is 5 percent of the $1.2 million project that never was.
The issue, according to Ringler, is not the money, but the unanswered question of who gave Merritt Engineering the authorization to go ahead with the work they have been billing the township for the last two years.
“It’s a principle issue, it’s right and wrong,” he said.
The claim is that former township supervisor Bill Myers gave the company a verbal go-ahead.
Ringler doubts that claim and said that the contract faxed to Merritt regarding the possible project was never signed, finalized or approved by the board.
The “contract really had to be approved by the board,” he said. “It never even got to that stage.”
Kidwell said that in previous work done between the township and Merritt Engineering written contracts were never used.
The battle may just come down to documentation and determining the course of events in relation to when the work was actually done. Whether or not a verbal agreement can be proven has yet to be seen.
“I’m assuming it’s going to get resolved,” said John Olson, president at Merritt Engineering. “We have no conflict with the township.” Olson said he couldn’t provide an exact date the work took place at the time he spoke to the Star, and had not been aware that the issue had come up in a meeting of the township board. But he said he was optimistic about a resolution. “I assume so,” he said when asked if he thought the matter would be settled in negotiations. “They’ve always been good people to deal with.”
As supervisor, Kidwell said his standpoint on the issue is that it is his responsibility to handle township contracts, including those outstanding.
Asked why Merritt Engineering would not simply go to Tenney for payment, Kidwell claimed the business was in bankruptcy and that trying to get money from them would be “like beating a dead horse.”
Kidwell said now, the township’s finance and administration committee, which is made up of the supervisor, Ringler, and Secretary Marge Durm-Hiatt, will meet with Merritt Engineering to discuss the matter and he believes a settlement will be met within those negotiations.
“I’m just trying to do what I feel is right,” he said.