Skamania Fire bid draws ire of state

Station built without proper procedures, auditor’s office says

By Paul Suarez, Columbian web producer

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Skamania County Fire District 3 did not comply with state bid law when it built a fire station in 2008, according to the Washington State Auditor’s Office.

The auditor’s office found that the district hired a volunteer firefighter to redesign station plans without publicly advertising a request for services, didn’t perform a review to ensure contractors paid appropriate wages and didn’t maintain adequate records to support its procurement procedures. The findings were discovered during an independent accountability audit between Jan. 1, 2008 and Dec. 31, 2010.

The district, which serves the unincorporated community of Underwood west of White Salmon, also hired contractors to complete individual parts of the project, according to the report.

State law requires the district to hire a general contractor to oversee the project and seek formal bids on public works projects that cost more than $20,000.

“The law does not allow the district to break the project into smaller components to avoid bid thresholds,” the auditor’s office said.

District’s defense

The district said splitting the project into smaller parts would be efficient and more cost effective.

“Through donated labor, services and materials, negotiating and bidding, and careful allocation of limited resources, the fire dept. was able to construct a state-of-the-art,13,000 square-foot facility that will serve our district long into the future,” the district wrote in its response. “We were able to save our district taxpayers at least $500,000.”

The auditor’s office said that decision means the district cannot ensure it got the best possible price for the work performed, that vendors were given equal access or that workers were paid appropriate wages.

According to the report, the district paid $51,000 to one person to provide architectural and engineering services, to act as the project manager and as the roofing contractor.

The district acquired the land to build the station in 2004 and began looking at its options to build the fire station. According to the report, a local architect donated design plans to the district but estimates to build exceeded the district’s resources. The district then hired the volunteer firefighter to redesign the plans to reduce construction costs.

The district agreed to establish policies and procedures to make sure it follows state bid law.

Paul Suarez: 360-735-4522; http://www.twitter.com/col_cops;paul.suarez@columbian.com.