Council divided about engineering fees

Scott Hilyard GateHouse Media Illinois

An unusual division emerged among members of the City Council July 29 over an unlikely topic:

Engineering fees.

Commissioner Chad Joos said he was “shocked” by the engineering costs attached to a fix-up and repaving of a portion of the EastSide Centre parking lot.

Commissioner Tim Jeffers lavished support on the city’s longtime engineering contractor, Patrick N. Meyer & Associates, and seemed mildly irritated by the questions and comments Joos directed toward Meyer.

Commissioner Dan Decker played it down the middle. He supported the work of the engineering firm, but also said Joos made some good points.

Commissioner Gary Densberger said maybe it was time to find new ways to pay for engineering services.

And Mayor Dave Mingus, saying he was going to “send a message,” was the only one of the five to vote against the repaving project.

“I think there’s a culture in the city that’s been here for years,” Mingus said at the July 29 meeting before the vote on the paving project. “And that culture is we call somebody instead of taking the initiative and try to do it ourselves. We need to look at things and doing it ourselves. So I won’t support this.”

The motion passed 4-1.

“My message was to city staff,” Mingus said July 30. “We have a wonderful staff with a multitude of expertise and ability. They need to have the freedom and the confidence to utilize city resources before turning to outside professionals and agencies.”

The lively discussion July 29 was an early public manifestation of a new way that the city is paying for its engineering services. Earlier this year the city switched to an hourly billing system for engineering services instead of the old way of paying a percentage of the project’s costs, usually about 10 percent. Because engineering work already has been done on some of the EastSide project, the $270,000 project cost came with an engineering fee of about $27,000.

The hourly billing means that Meyer will do less work automatically on engineering projects, and wait for the call to come from the city for specific job details.

“In the past, Patrick would attend (Peoria-Pekin Urbanized Area Transportation Study) and (Illinois Department of Transportation) meetings on our behalf and assess street conditions, monitor the street maintenance program and bid specs and other areas where city staff might be able to do the work,” said City Administrator Tom Brimberry on July 30. “I think everybody’s on board that there are ways we can save money here by getting city staff more involved.”