An open letter to Billings council and taxpayers

To the Expositor:

As reported in The Expositor (January 15, 2020), in a recent Special Meeting, Billings council voted unanimously to take the highest bid ($189,999) for contract work on the renovation and fixes for the Old Mill Heritage Centre. As council members observed, there was essentially no difference between the two submitted bids (one from a Billings contractor and one from another Island contractor). Indeed, council noted that some identical subcontracting was contained in both bids. Council proceeded to select the highest (by $10,000) bid because the contractor was “local” (to Billings), “a taxpayer” and, for one council member, she had known the contractor as a teenager. At the same meeting and just prior to choosing the highest bid, the mayor gave a presentation about council’s commitment to “fiscal responsibility” and “communication.”

I have comments/questions about this decision directed to council and taxpayers:

To council:

When given the choice between “fiscal responsibility” and buying locally (“local” meant Billings and no other community), you chose buying locally. Please communicate more clearly what you really value: fiscal responsibility or buying locally? As you have just shown, you can’t always have it both ways. 

Just moments before this generous decision, the mayor made the point that each $18,000 of added expenses to the township represents a one percent increase in taxes. Is the mayor saying to residents that we can expect a 0.56 percent change in taxes or services this year due solely to this recent decision? Is there an upper limit to costs when buying locally?

Also worth considering is the impact of council’s decision on the future of contract bids for the township. Do council members think that this decision could drive away bids from contractors around the Island? It’s a small island and word travels fast. Did you think about how contractors are going to respond and what this will mean for attracting competitive bids on future projects? 

To Billings taxpayers:

Are you ready to accept and pay for future projects if a local contractor comes in with a similar but higher-priced bid than other contractors? Is there a limit to taxpayer generosity or do you also value “local” at any price and are you willing to pay for it through a tax increase or decrease in other services? Council needs your feedback! The mayor commented in his presentation that council is looking for citizen engagement. Please ask questions, start the discussion and tell council where you stand. 

In my opinion, council’s claim to fiscal responsibility and the subsequent approval of the much higher of two nearly identical bids doesn’t make sense.  Actions speak louder than words and council appeared to throw its public commitment to “fiscal responsibility” under the bus. As a taxpayer, I was not impressed and hope for decisions in the future that are more consistent with council’s stated goals.

Yours truly, 

Barbara Erskine