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At its Wednesday, June 4, meeting, the North Beach Town Council agreed in a series of unanimous votes on various budget-centric decisions, including the rejection of proposals for work on the Bayfront Park and Sculpture Garden and the increase of adult beach entry fees.

The council voted to reject two bids for the design and construction of the park’s water features on the recommendation of town engineer and zoning administrator John Hofmann, who presented a memo with the bids of Knee Deep Ponds in Huntingtown and Consolidated Construction & Engineering Co. Inc. in Laurel.

Acknowledging that the outcome was “a little strange,” Hofmann reported that each bid came in May 28 at $138,000.

“We have no idea how this happened,” he said.

According to the memo, the bidders had been instructed to provide bids along with a bid form for pricing for the design and the construction of the ponds, a preliminary plan with the specifications for the equipment and the materials they would use and a statement of qualifications.

But neither Knee Deep Ponds nor Consolidated Construction and Engineering Co. Inc. provided a separate price for design, as the bid documents required, according to the memo. Both also failed to provide the statement of qualifications.

Knee Deep Ponds provided a “lengthy narrative” that described the company’s planned approach to construction of the ponds but lacked details about specific equipment specifications, which the town needed in order to fully review the bid, the memo states. Consolidated Construction & Engineering Co. Inc. supplied no plan and, instead, sent a “one-page letter that doesn’t even begin to provide what the town needs to have to evaluate his bid.”

“As far as qualifications, neither bidder gave us much, if any, information on their qualifications,” Hofmann said. “I think they just threw in a bid at the last minute; they were fishing.”

Pledging that he and North Beach Director of Public Works Donnie Bowen would “beat the path to get more competent proposals,” Hofmann recommended that the town reject the bids and solicit more.

Mayor Mark Frazer agreed with Hofmann’s recommendation, also expressing his concerns that the bids were identical.

“I don’t think anybody’s comfortable with the two bids coming in at the exact same amount,” he said. “We’re not saying there’s been any bid-rigging. … It just doesn’t pass the smell test.”

In a phone interview, the mayor added that he expects to review new proposals for both the walkway and pond construction at the July 10 council meeting, and that he is hopeful the council will make awards at that time.

Although the bids did not pass Frazer’s “smell test,” his proposal to increase adult beach entry fees did.

When discussing a resolution to approve the fiscal 2015 fee schedule, Frazer proposed raising the admission fee from $5 to $6 for Calvert County adult residents and from $12 to $15 for out-of-county adult beachgoers. He emphasized that the admission for children would not increase.

His rationale is that the increase would help North Beach recoup the $140,000 renovation and expansion to its welcome center, improvements that were completed just before Memorial Day, he said in a phone interview.

Because the beach hosts about 10 times as many visitors who live outside of the county as those who live inside it, Frazer said, the plan is to use admission fees to pay for capital improvements.

In voting for the fee schedule, the council accepted the increase, which will take effect July 1.

While the whole council was in favor of the increase, many specified that the extra money must be used for capital improvements exclusively.

“I would agree wholeheartedly with the increase and dedicating it to capital,” council member Gregory McNeill said. “Once we’re paid for the cost of the improvements, maybe we could dedicate half of the $3 increase to an ongoing beach capital fund and the other half to making an environmental fund.”

Councilman Kenneth Wilcox also highlighted the future in his comments, noting that there is interest in using the pier for weddings and other parties.

“We should dedicate the increases into a wide investment of infrastructure,” he said.

One of the projects for which the increase will help pay is the pier rehabilitation project that will start in October, Frazer said. This will encompass the construction of a new lower-level fishing platform, repair and rehabilitation of the pilings that support the pier and a new deck on the entire 600-plus-foot length of the pier.

Frazer said the cost of the project is expected to exceed $700,000, with state grants covering approximately half of that.

Although some council members brought up a concern of “pricing out,” all agreed that, ultimately, the beach could stay competitive with those in the area and that the demand to bear the price increase exists.

“I see it as a kind of basic economics. There’s supply and demand,” McNeill said. “Clearly, the demand is there.”

afrazier@somdnews.com