SEA BRIGHT: Several borough officials asked to further investigate if Sea Bright was best served by its contract with T&M Associates as borough engineer, but at the annual organization meeting, enough votes gave the firm the annual appointment after some debate.
Councilman John Lamia and Charles Rooney voted no on a contract to have T&M Associates and Jaclyn Flor serve as borough engineer, in favor of better researching engineer firms' rates.
"This is a pretty big decision for the taxpayers, and we need to get it right," Rooney said, hoping to table the matter for 30 days, to research more rates.
The newly sworn in councilman said he had researched rates himself, reaching out to similar towns such as Union Beach for the costs billed for engineering services.
Rooney said T&M came up as expensive, both in the dollar amount for Sea Bright in total so far and by the hourly rate. Mayor Dina Long said that six months ago she saw the large amounts spent on engineering services, and asked that the borough bid for all professional services, to get rates in time for the 2015 reorganization meeting.
"This was the first time we had done that," Long said after the meeting.
During the meeting's debate, she said finding the best cost mattered, as this was ultimately taxpayers' money for which they had to be accountable.
Councilman Marc Leckstein and Brian Kelly said the costs the borough was paying up front to T&M were being paid for through reimbursements from FEMA or matching grants, and that had to be weighed in to the discussion.
Leckstein also said the matter had been debated over the last two weeks as the borough prepared for its annual reorganization meeting, where borough professionals are appointed, and came up with different total costs paid to T&M than Rooney's research had.
"I was unable to find one town that had paid more than the borough of Sea Bright for their engineering firm," Rooney said, saying the borough had paid T&M more than a million dollars over the last two years. "In the end I am not sure that we are getting the best dollar value with T&M."
Rooney's comments were met with audience applause as he asked the borough council to reconsider its vote, but his motion did not pass.
Council President William Keeler said that T&M had put in hundreds of unbilled hours, even staying overnight in borough hall to work on Hurricane Sandy projects, and thought it unwise to pull the firm off projects it was already entrenched in. A better way to analyze if Sea Bright is being best served by its engineering firm, is to add more firms into the mix, assigning them to projects and seeing how they work, Keeler said.
"That's what we are doing this evening," Keeler said, referring to the addition of municipal consulting borough engineers on the agenda.
Leon Avakian, Abbington Engineering, French & Parrello, Suburban Consulting Engineers and Maser Consulting were all approved by the council that meeting.
Keeler also advocated for a quarterly assessment of all the borough professionals, to see the costs associated and work performed.
"If six months from now we see something, we can make a decision at that point," he said.