Niagara Gazette

May 23, 2013

Legislature proposes competitive bidding for county storage rentals

By Joyce M. Miles
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — The Niagara County Legislature’s minority caucus proposed mandatory competitive bidding for the county storage rentals presently given without a bid to a prominent Republican developer.

Presently the county is storing voting machines at rented quarters in Newfane. Lockport real estate developer David Ulrich owns the Transit Road property and has had the county’s voting machine storage business since August 2008, on a no-bid lease agreement specifying rent of $7,200 per month.

Terms also call for automatic one-year lease renewals, perpetually, until the county moves to terminate the lease with written notice at least 120 days before the end date, July 31.

Niagara Falls lawmakers Jason Zona, Dennis Virtuoso and Owen Steed, all Democrats, called the no-bid contract into question last fall, after the Republican-led legislature OK’d a second lease deal with Ulrich’s Clear Opportunity Properties, for controlled-climate storage of county records at the same facility. The county didn’t put that space requirement out to bid either.

Zona says the practice smacks of carelessness.“(Ulrich) provides good service, we just want the best price for the taxpayers — and we can’t be sure we’re getting it in a no-bid deal,” he said.

The Democrats introduced a resolution at Tuesday’s Legislature meeting hoping to get a vote on the question whether the voting-equipment storage lease should be put up to competitive bidding this year.

However, per the 120 days’ prior notice clause, the county remains in business with Clear Opportunity at least through mid-2014. To end the deal after July 31, the county would have had to give written notice in April, Virtuoso said. The bidding issue was put off last year when Republicans promised to review the matter.

At the time, then-committee chairman Keith McNall, R-Lockport, promised it would look at “some sort of competitive marketing process” for locating machine storage space. The committee ended up not examining the question, McNall said this week, after County Attorney Claude Joerg pointed him to case law suggesting the county is not required to “shop” for real estate as it would shop, by bid solicitation, for materials, equipment and the like.