MAHOPAC, N.Y. - An audit of the town’s procurement policy by the state comptroller’s office last month found that the policy “does not provide a clear method for procuring professional services” and recommended that the town revise it. Albany’s fiscal watchdogs generally recommend competitive bidding as a good way for local governments to obtain goods and services at the lowest possible price.”
Councilman Mike Barile, who ran for Town Board three years ago, had made looking into the town’s purchasing procedures part of his campaign platform. Last year, he sent a letter to the state comptroller’s office asking it to investigate those procedures.
The audit focused on one year—2018— where it noted the town procured professional services from 16 providers with payments totaling $870,909 without competitive bids. It also revealed the town did not obtain the required number of quotes for 34 purchases totaling $59,426 and a proposal for one purchase totaling $13,404. Three purchases totaling $911,044 were not competitively bid, the report said.
Barile said that while he was pleased the issue is being brought to light, he was not happy with the report because he thought it would have been more damning.
“It only looks at the one year, and that’s the problem,” he said. “This was something that made me run for this job and [because I did it] I think it’s part of the persecution I’ve gone through. The entrenched people don’t like an outsider doing this. I’m not a politician.”
The state comptroller’s office recommended two key steps the town should take to remedy the problem:
• Revise the procurement policy to provide a clear method for procuring professional services.
• Ensure that town officials and employees obtain the required number of proposals or quotes for purchases or competitively bid purchases. Employees and officials should consider purchases in aggregate when determining if competition is needed.
Barile said he wasn’t aware of the previous procurement policy or when it was originally written, but said it was in drastic need of revision.
“If there was one before, it could have been written by a 4-year-old preschooler,” he said. “It’s been a disgrace for 20-plus years. It didn’t have any teeth.”
Barile said the problem was not necessarily with the procurement policy itself, but alleged that jobs were pushed toward particular recipients at the will of town officials.
“When we send something out for bid, we don’t get outside people bidding like other towns do because Carmel is known for directing bids to who they want,” he said. “They’ve given up. Engineers and contractors have called me and stated that. Why should they bother?”
Barile said that while he believes the report validates his contention that the town’s bidding process has been misguided, he takes no satisfaction in it.
“I don’t take credit for it,” he said. “It’s been going on for 25 years and had to be corrected. You have to pay attention to what goes on and what happens to taxpayer money. Facts don’t lie. The problem is no outside firms will bid in Carmel because they believe it’s a controlled environment and this proves me right.
“Anyone with a fifth-grade education can see what is going on,” he continued. “The average person doesn’t pay attention to the inside of the agenda. But it’s been bothering me my whole adult life and it is what is wrong with this town. People have to understand how huge this is when you waste a million dollars. This gets buried in the water districts, where the rates have gone up so dramatically. It’s a horrible situation.”
Calls seeking comment from former councilmen Jonathan Schneider and John Lupinacci, who were on the board in 2018, the year that the audit examined, were not returned.
Supervisor Ken Schmitt said that the Town Board and town comptroller Mary Ann Maxwell have taken the state’s recommendations to heart and have begun revising the procurement policy and bidding procedures.
“We are reviewing the entire policy that we currently have,” Schmitt said. “We will address the issues that [the state] identified and will be making changes going forward.”
Schmitt said the auditors found the language too vague in some places and needed clarification and specificity.
“What they identified was some concerns about the confusion that existed in the policy regarding purchasing with respect to bidding and written or verbal quotes,” he said. “They wanted the town to clarify it. I think they felt it should be much clearer and spelled out in simpler terms.”
Schmitt said he and the Town Board would review the revisions in conjunction with Maxwell and town attorney Greg Folchetti.
“I would like to bring it before the board in the next 30 to 60 days,” he said. “Once the board has reviewed the changes, we will amend it. It will make the policy a lot smoother. It will take away any confusion. We welcome the recommendations.”
Maxwell said the town officially has 90 days to submit a corrective action plan to the state and has already begun to implement some of the recommendations.
“I think [the recommendations] are helpful,” she said. “We always welcome suggestions to improve from the state. We already have some of the [new] policies and practices in place in our software regarding quotes and department heads have to abide by that. Everybody is on board with it. It will make my job a little easier in the long run.”
Maxwell said the current procurement policy was very old and in dire need of an upgrade.
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