/ Articles / Winchester Town Board holds off on road and culvert bids

Winchester Town Board holds off on road and culvert bids

Questions asked about obtaining estimates prior to the formal bid process

April 24, 2020 by Brian Jopek

The Winchester Town Board on Monday made a couple decisions regarding a roughly mile-long stretch of town road.

What was decided initially was to advertise work on the road for bids and do it, town chairman Joe Discianno argued, now before road construction firms get busy. 

A few minutes later, following some input from former town chairman Rick Clem, the town board revisited the item and reversed the earlier decision. 

Before that occurred, there was discussion on other matters that provided, at times, a little tension to the proceedings.

‘Left in the dust’

Monday’s special town board meeting was the first town board meeting in nearly a month, since another special town board meeting March 23.

Prior to that were special town board meetings on March 6 and March 12 and before that, a regular monthly town board meeting on Monday, March 2.

Town supervisor Galen Brownewell stated, looking at the meeting agenda, he didn’t believe there was anything on the agenda that was pressing and couldn’t be addressed at the town board’s next regular monthly meeting on May 4.

He also made reference to where an item on the agenda concerning discussion of and possible action on postponing the town’s annual meeting — described by Brownewell as the meeting’s “most important” item — was on the agenda. 

It was listed as last, above adjournment. 

“I believe it was put in that position for a reason,” he said, not expanding on what he felt that reason was.

Brownewell made a motion to have the annual meeting item moved to the top of the agenda and his motion was seconded by town supervisor Sulo Wainio, attending via teleconference from Florida. 

“OK,” Discianno said. “I’m not really in favor of that but, uh, we can do that. If that’s gonna make you happy. I mean, I have every right to call this meeting. I’ve been trying to get this meeting set up for well over a week now, I get pushback and you know what? Push comes to shove so I set it up. That’s why we’re here today.”

Disagreeing with Brownewell’s earlier comment, Discianno said the issues on the agenda were “pressing issues because they need to get decided on” as far as bids for road and culvert work. 

“We’re gonna get left in the dust and this stuff’s not gonna get done this year,” he said. 

Wainio asked if anyone was present for the meeting. 

Other than Discianno, Brownewell and The Lakeland Times, others in attendance were Clem and Mike Potts. 

Quoting state statute, Wainio made a motion to postpone the town’s annual meeting “to a date no earlier than 60 days after the termination of the public health emergency” declared March 12 by an executive order from Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers. 

Evers last week issued an extension to May 26. 

Brownewell seconded the motion and once Discianno received clarification from Wainio the motion he made shouldn’t have been made instead by Discianno as town chairman, he inquired if a date for the annual meeting should be set. 

“Or are we just going to leave it in limbo?” he asked.

“We have to leave it in limbo because we don’t know when the executive order’s going to be rescinded,” Wainio said. 

“OK,” Discianno said. “I’m fine with that.”

Once that item was voted on and approved, the town board next took up culvert replacement on Old Highway O and Bruette Road.

“Both of these are in major disrepair, have been for a long, long time,” Discianno said, adding the town has received approval from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to have them replaced. 

“So, what we really need to do is get these things out for bid,” he said. “If we want to get them done this year.”

Discianno said he’s had representatives with construction firm Pitlik & Wick look at the culverts “just to give us some idea” and he also needed to contact Vilas County highway commissioner Nick Scholtes “to find out if the funding is there for these.”

“Because of the size of the culvert, they (Vilas County) are supposed to pick up half the bill,” he said. “I’m just trying to stay on top of things, guys, that’s why I think we need to make a decision and put these out for bid.”

Wainio immediately made a motion to table the matter to the town board’s next regular monthly meeting on May 4.

“And this is a decision that can’t be made now for what reason?” Discianno asked. 

Wainio reiterated he made the motion to table.

“It’s a matter of putting it in the newspaper and putting it out for bid,” Discianno said, visibly frustrated. “I don’t know how much there is to discuss on it.”

“There’s a lot to discuss on this,” Wainio said. “Again, the motion’s been made to table it to the May 4 meeting.”

Brownewell made the second to the Wainio’s motion.

“OK, I see how this is gonna go,” Discianno said.

“Is there discussion?” Brownewell said. 

“Any discussion?” Discianno asked. 

“No,” Wainio said. 

“Well, there is for me,” Brownewell said. “The reason I seconded the motion is we’re still trying to find out if we can get special funding for the culvert through some different organizations, if I’m correct. Right, Sulo?”

Wainio said at this time, there is no county funding. 

“The money that was available last year is no longer available because the county is putting in a box culvert on (County Highway) K,” he said. “Right now, the only culvert that would be available, we would have to get our information to the county and that would be for next year’s cycle.” 

“OK,” Discianno said. “So, basically we blew it and we’re not getting the funding so this is another project that’s kind of in dire need that we’re gonna have to put into next year.” 

He said he felt there still needed to be bids let out now on the project so the town would have some idea what its costs were going to be in order to budget in 2021. 

“So, I think it is important to get it out for bid,” Discianno said.

When it came time to vote on Wainio’s motion to table, the vote was 2 to 1, with Discianno dissenting. 

Reached for comment later Monday, Scholtes commented on the county’s bridge aid program, referenced in the Winchester Town Board discussion.

As Wainio indicated, he said there are requirements towns have to meet, a big one having to do with timing.

In fact, Scholtes said he just sent letters to Vilas County towns letting them know it was time for the county highway department to begin its budget process. 

“Part of that budget process is the bridge aid program,” he said. “We need the towns to go out and inspect their culverts and see if there are any they anticipate needing replacement in 2021 that are 36 inches or larger in diameter.”

Scholtes said to work funding for qualifying town culvert projects into the county highway budget in 2020, he needed information from the towns regarding assistance with culvert replacement no later than June 2019.

“Planning ahead is always a good thing,” he said.  

In the ballpark

The town board also, by meeting’s end, tabled putting out for bids work on Old Hwy. O, but not before initially voting to advertise for bids. 

Discianno began the conversation by saying he understood the town board hadn’t yet generated a road report for this year. 

“But because this is a project we decided on doing last year, I think it’s important we get it out before it’s too late and they end up coming to do it for us in September or October,” he said. “Or just before the snow flies.”

Brownewell asked Wainio, who he identified as coordinating the project at the town board level, if all the specifications for the road were finalized. 

Wainio said since funding for the project would be coming from a state grant, the specifications would be state specifications. 

He also pointed out the town has “three biennials” to have the roadwork done. 

“We do not have to build it this year,” Wainio said. “A, it’s not budgeted for this year and B, with the price of oil going down, we’d be better off waiting on this project to see what happens.”

“So, we did not have this in our budget?” Discianno asked. 

“It was not a budgeted item for that much road,” Wainio responded. “That would be the only project we could do all year is this one road.”

Discianno said that was new information to him.

“When were we planning on doing this and was this going to be split up over multiple years?” he asked. “I’m not quite following what you’re talking about.”

Wainio reiterated the town had up to three years to have Old Hwy. O done according to provisions in the grant. 

“It’s not like we have to rush through and get it done immediately this year,” he said. 

Discianno repeated that was information he was unaware of and asked Brownewell if he was. 

“I was aware of that,” Brownewell said and then asked Wainio if the town had enough money in the budget, plus the grant money, to get the road work done in 2020. 

“We just wouldn’t be able to do anything else,” Brownewell said. 

Wainio said since the town didn’t have any roadwork done in 2019, the work on Old Hwy. O could technically be done in 2020. 

“We also do have a bid already from Pitlik and Wick,” he said. “That was bid out last year.”

Discianno momentarily returned to the culvert issue Wainio earlier made the motion to table.

“Right,” he said. “That’s like the culverts they (Pitlik and Wick) bid on put we didn’t put it in the paper for competitors to give us a number on,” he said.

Wainio said he wasn’t involved in any request for bids for the Old Hwy. O project. 

Discianno acknowledged he had been in contact with Pitlik and Wick about the project.

“That was to get us in the ballpark to see where would be with the funding and everything, I guess,” he said. 

Discianno said the parameters had been changed to a stretch of Old Hwy. O from Bucks Road to the town park. 

Brownewell was in favor of a motion to authorize getting some numbers — not formal bids — for that stretch “to see what the tallies are” in relation to the town’s 2020 road construction budget. 

Wainio agreed and said if that was a motion, he would second. 

The vote on the motion was unanimous. 

The reversal

There was no provision for public comment on the meeting agenda, but Clem asked if questions were going to be allowed. 

His question was about the decision to get bids for Old Hwy. O. 

“I’m a little confused,” Clem said. “You guys were talking about putting stuff out for bid, but then I hear you’ve already got estimates and stuff from people. How are you getting stuff from people if it hasn’t been out for bid? That’s the exact statement you guys made.”

“Yeah,” Discianno said. 

“How are you doing that if it hasn’t gone out for bid?” Clem asked again. 

Discianno said he asked Pitlik and Wick to look at it. 

“Then, if it’s a project we’re able to do this year or a project we’re able to do next year, at least we have an idea instead of going into it blind,” he said. 

Clem, town chairman until last April when Discianno was elected after Clem decided not to run for re-election, said in the past, there have been authorizations from the town board to get bids for projects. 

In some cases, he said there might be four or five vendors and sometimes, there were occasions where the town board, for whatever reason, took no action on a set of bids it received for a project as part of the formal bidding process. 

“But we don’t have estimates before we put stuff out for bid,” Clem said. 

“Well, we haven’t done our road report for this year yet,” Discianno said.

“That’s not the question I’m asking,” Clem said, his point being there are no estimates first followed by a formal bidding process. 

“I question that,” he said. 

“Well, you question it but I don’t,” Discianno said. “I think it makes sense to me. If this is a project we approved last year, why wouldn’t we get an estimate for it already?”

“It’s called a bid in the paper,” Clem said. “That’s why I’m asking.”

Discianno maintained that in order to prepare that portion of the budget, the town board needed some idea, through estimates, of what dollar amount was going to be needed. 

Brownewell, who served with Clem on the town board the past few years, agreed the process had been to go through the formal bidding process and then the town board could look at those results and make a decision one way or the other. 

“What Rick is saying is it’s a little one-sided of you go to one person and you get an estimate, you already talked to a potential bidder,” he said. 

“Potential but we’re not discussing numbers with any other companies,” Discianno said. “I like to have an idea.”

Wainio said when there’s an estimate from any contractor for town work, it becomes public record. 

“If any contractor wants to look and request that public record, they would have the exact amount that that company estimated for the project,” he said. “So, yes, it is not correct.”

“OK,” Discianno said. “Something I guess I’m not aware of.”

The town board eventually returned to the Old Hwy. O agenda item from earlier in the meeting, reversing its earlier decision and approving another motion from Brownewell to hold off on the project until town board members have had an opportunity to gather information on the condition of town roads. 

Brian Jopek may be reached via email at [email protected]

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