New Bethel fire station OK’d despite request for delay

jmarks@lakewyliepilot.comMay 14, 2013 

— Funding for a new Bethel Volunteer Fire Department station received an unusual approval last week, accepting a bid and setting a path for the $2 million construction.

Despite a request from the Bethel Rural Fire District Board to delay a decision, York County Council accepted a bid from Rock Hill firm J.M. Cope Inc. to design and build a 14,000-square-foot station beside Bethel’s existing Station No. 1 at S.C. 557 and Oakridge Road.

Four firms submitted bids by Feb. 6 for the work. Cope’s bid was the lowest. County staff recommended approval at the May 6 Council meeting.

Wayne Jarman, chairman of the special tax district board, said with $2 million on the line his group needed “additional time to come to the correct conclusion.”

“We have some new information the tax board needs to consider, the volunteer fire department needs to consider to make sure we’re making the best decision for the taxpayers, for the Council and for the fire department,” he said.

Delaying a vote until the next meeting would have extended the bid process by two weeks. Councilman Bruce Henderson said the tax board should have been given the extra two weeks to make sure the community is getting the “absolute biggest bang for the buck.”

“What’s two weeks, and would it matter at this point when there’s enough time to get that information before the cutoff?” Henderson said.

Councilmen Britt Blackwell, Michael Johnson, Curwood Chappell and William “Bump” Roddey voted against the delay.

“We have a sealed bid process,” Blackwell said. “You know I’m a stickler about being fair to people, and I don’t think that would be fair at all to the low bidder to now have people trying to figure out ways to change the low bid.”

Johnson said he was concerned about stepping into dangerous legal waters by making a decision based on information received after the bids arrived. Roddey was concerned the move would invite multiple parties to go back-and-forth with information on why they should win the job.

“At some point somebody’s just going to say, let’s go ahead and rebid it,” Roddey said. “And I think that would be totally unfair to do.”

Councilman Joe Cox voted with Henderson, saying the special tax district is different from general fund spending and delaying a move two weeks wouldn’t necessarily change anything, but it also wouldn’t hurt.

County attorney Michael Kendree said there wasn’t a legal problem with delaying a decision, but changing the bid winner could have caused one.

Chappell, the most veteran Council member, said issues like this sometimes arise when one company wins a bid and another doesn’t.

“The legality of it, you lawyers will have to figure that out,” Chappell said. “But Mr. Cope won the bid with the lowest bid.”

After awarding the bid, Council approved up to $12,500 to Fort Mill-based Summit ECS for special inspections at the site, and a $17,160 bid for an emergency lighting tower system to be installed on the No. 1 service truck.

That device is pole-mounted, remote controlled and can extend 10 feet with full rotation, and is used for emergency service at night or in early morning hours. A machines and equipment budget already set aside up to $23,000 for it.

The Cope bid approved by Council came with $24,400 in contingency money. Cox and Henderson argued if a mistake was made in the bid process or if new information could benefit the community, then it wouldn’t be fair not to consider it.

“I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt,” Henderson said of the fire board.

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