Smart Growth for Vernon, CT

JESSE HAMILTON, Courant Staff Writer.
Hartford Courant
Sep 18, 2002

A contractor wants $100,000 more for a Bolton Road project than the town expected to pay, and because town officials misunderstood the project deal, the contractor is entitled to the money.

That was the news Administrator Laurence Shaffer gave to Vernon's town council Tuesday night. With apologies, he sprung the unexpected situation on the council, asking it to approve money for the $253,000 project.

The project was begun in 1994 and completed this summer. Its purpose was to make curves on Bolton Road safer for motorists. The job was done well, Shaffer told the council.

The problem: Town officials, misunderstanding the contract, underestimated what they'd be paying for the excavation and hauling of rock.

For the whole project, Vernon at first set aside about $146,000, with $127,800 of that paid for by the state. The town, when the project was finally planned, expected it to run a slightly higher $184,000.

The final bill from John Olender Corp. was $253,597.79.

"We thought we were on top of it," Town Engineer Tim Timberman said. "I'm as embarrassed as anybody to stand up here and admit our department made a terrible mistake."

Officials had wrongly believed much of the rock excavation was already covered under some fixed rates. As Timberman spoke, a member of the audience who earlier had complained to the council about a Vernon Avenue project stormed from the meeting, calling Timberman an "amateur."

Shaffer gave the council a method for paying the extra bill, from money saved from other town projects, without going into the general fund of an already strained budget. The council approved setting aside the money, but members decided to wait on paying the bill until they talk about it in executive session Oct. 1.

Council member Jason McCoy said the payment "takes away from all the other projects we'd like to do. ... We shouldn't be on the hook like that. It's absurd."

He added that he's leery of paying it all, suggesting the contractor misled the town.

Whatever happens, Shaffer said, a lesson was learned: "We can't get caught by surprise like this anymore."

After that discussion, the council made another decision that wasn't on the agenda. Members approved hiring Patrick J. J. Sullivan as deputy assessor -- a $42,897-a-year job.

Mayor Diane Wheelock said Sullivan's addition would create "a nice blend of expertise" in the office. Shaffer said Sullivan has worked with the office and is proficient in software and statistics.

(Copyright The Hartford Courant 2002)