Basalt aims to streamline town contracts

Basalt Town Council granted greater autonomy to the town manager at their last meeting, raising the threshold for contract approval from Town Council from $50,000 to $75,000.
Town of Basalt

Eggs, rent and now procurement policy. Inflation came after many pockets of life in the region, requiring nearly everyone to adjust their budgets. And now the town of Basalt has raised its threshold for contracts that require council approval as costs in sectors like construction climb ever higher. 

Town Council members voted last week to amend the procurement policy in terms of request solicitation, raise the threshold price of purchasing authority for town staff, and raise the threshold for approval of modifications to a contract, updating the process with the times technologically and financially. 

The cap on contracts for goods, services or construction that will only require approval from the town manager, and not Town Council, went up from $49,999 to $74,999. And the total sum of change orders, or modifications, on a contract cannot exceed more than 10% of the contract price or $250,000, whichever is less, without approval from the Town Council.

And the town approved an update to the policy allowing the publication of requests for bids to an online platform like BidNet Direct, which is used by many governmental entities nationwide to expand reach to potential contractors. 

Contracts less than $5,000 will still only require town manager or department head approval.

Some council members expressed hesitancy at letting go of the dollar amount tied to the change order limit in favor of contract percentage, which Town Attorney Jeff Conklin noted is easily triggered on large, multi-million dollar projects.

“I think if we’ve already approved the project in scope and in whole, if there’s a giant change $300,000 I think in today’s world when you’re constructing something like Midland Avenue isn’t that much,” council member Dieter Schindler said.

After some back-and-forth, Conklin suggested adding the $250,000 amendment.

“If it’s a big number, one that’s going to exceed the budget, we’d need to be back here to get an ordinance to amend the budget and do a supplemental appropriation anyway,” said Conklin.

Basalt’s planning director, Michelle Thibeault, said one of the most likely examples of an instance in which town staff would make use of the amended policy is to commission a study. When staff encounters an engineering issue on a project, a study lays out alternative, potentially more affordable paths forward. That process would require a change order, likely one less than 10% of the contract budget.

“If we’re going to be over budget, we’re going to have to come back and ask you anyway,” she assured the council. That would apply to line items in a contract, not just the overall contract budget. 

The town would save time bypassing council approval for such a request, Thibeault said. Staff also echoed the appeal of being nimble and moving efficiently, as the Town Council only meets every other week.

“I’m all for being nimble. I just don’t want to have a bunch of public comments in here about how we’re doing things behind the back of the community,” council member Elyse Hottel said.  

The change comes as Basalt is early in the Midland Avenue Streetscape Project, a multi-million dollar project to update infrastructure and aesthetics in downtown Basalt. 

Town Manager Ryan Mahoney said the desire for the amendments sparked from an outdated policy, adopted in 2018 well before pandemic pricing, and the desire to keep delays on efforts like the streetscape project to a minimum.

“We just want to make sure that, because time is of the essence for so many of these projects, particularly those that end up in the right of way, that we can move and make decisions pretty quickly,” he said. “And 2018 compared to today, the world has shifted in the sense of the cost of our projects. We just wanted to have the procurement policy reflect better on costs.”

He could not quote specific numbers, but Mahoney said change orders that hit the $250,000 threshold are not common.

To maintain transparency, Mahoney said, the town will “do some kind of reporting out on a semi-regular basis like we do with our general financials,” much of which is available in regular meeting agendas. And other backstops will keep Town Council involved, he said.

He also said the town staff and council have worked hard in recent years to earn public trust to make changes to the procurement policy like this, and that living documents are always subject to further amendment. 

The updated policy went into effect upon council’s approval. The policy maintains its preference for local businesses, which directs the town to grant preference to a local business if its bid is within 5% of the lowest responsible bidder on procurements up to $100,000 or within 2% of the lowest responsible bidder on procurements over $100,000.