Township continues Merritt debatePublished 10:26am Tuesday, November 3, 2009
By JESSICA SIEFF
Niles Daily Star
It was the $64,000 question – and almost two months later, the issue of an outstanding bill remains the subject of debate among the Niles Charter Township Board.
The matter was brought before the board two months ago, the bill claimed to be owed to Merritt Engineering Inc. of Stevensville, which claims it spent approximately 500 hours of work drawing up plans for a proposed water expansion project between the township and the then-in development Longmeadow site in 2006.
Up for debate is whether the company was ever authorized to do the work in the first place, putting into question whether or not they are actually owed anything.
Supervisor Jim Kidwell originally brought the matter to the board, saying he felt the debt should be taken care of. Members of the board, including Treasurer Jim Ringler disagreed, claiming no signed contract was had with Merritt Engineering which meant the township was not liable to pay.
Monday night, Kidwell proposed paying Merritt based on the hours worked.
“We’ll just pay them on the time they took on the plans,” he said.
That amount would be approximately $42,500 – a drop from the original figure of $64,000, which amounted to 5 percent of the $1.2 million dollar project that never took place.
“I’m not in favor of paying them at all,” said Ringler, claiming the company had shown “no proof” that they were given authorization for their work.
When discussions for the plan began, the proposed budget amounted to just around $400,000 by the developer, Jane Tenney of Jane Tenney and Associates Inc.
Estimates came back at a whopping $1.2 million for the project, and that is when Ringler and Tenney say all plans for the expansion project were abandoned.
Sometime after the $1.2 million figure was handed back to the township, Merritt claims it was given the green light to work up blueprints for the site.
Kidwell’s argument stems from the fact that the township has never entered into a written contract with Merritt on any of its other projects – so the lack of written proof should not clear the township from the obligation to pay.
The supervisor also said at Monday night’s meeting that the township’s legal counsel had advised that the debt be paid, adding “if we don’t we will lose.”
But the board questioned whether the matter would come to debate within a courtroom and Ringler protested that counsel was not necessarily a judge.
Trustee Ron Goodwin questioned the outcome of such a situation. “Do you think (Merritt) was going to bring a suit against us,” he asked Kidwell, adding that the board might reevaluate their relationship with Merritt should the matter get to that point.
Kidwell’s only support came from trustee Michael Bailey, who said he also felt if the debt was owed and the relationship with Merritt was good, then it should simply be paid.
But Jane Tenney, who was in attendance at the meeting argued that all parties involved, including township officials and Merritt Engineering, were well aware that the project had been abandoned after the preliminary estimates came back at $1.2 million.
“That’s what we discussed,” she said. “The price came in, astronomically higher. And it was scrubbed.”
The board voted to table the discussion and explore the option of a special meeting to resolve the matter, which has been going on for three years.