Painters union, Herculaneum at odds over $1 million water tower project

Non-union, out-of-state contractor hired to paint, maintain two cisterns

Assistant Editor

IGNORING ITS OWN PURCHASING POLICY, Herculaneum has hired a non-union, out-of-state contractor to paint and maintain two of its water towers at a cost of over $1 million. Normally, any project over $5,000 must be put out for bid. Painters District Council 58 is calling the city out on it. – City of Herculaneum photo

Herculaneum, MO – Painters District Council 58 is calling out the city of Herculaneum in Jefferson County for issuing a $1 million, no-bid contract to a non-union, out-of-state contractor to paint and maintain two of the city’s three water towers in violation of its own protocol to put the project out for bid.

Late last year, the  Board of Aldermen approved a contract with Utility Services Co., Inc., of Georgia, to paint and maintain its McNutt Street and Joachim Avenue water towers at a combined cost of $1,039,704 spread over three years. Per the city’s purchasing policy, any project over $5,000 must be put out for bid before being awarded.

“It’s the city’s fiduciary responsibility to its residents to put that project out for bid because of the cost,” said District Council 58 Business Representative Shawn Oster. “Both towers need to be repainted inside and out and painting is not considered maintenance. We would subcontract out any water tower maintenance.”

Oster, and John Whitworth, a District Council 58 organizer, found out about the signing of the agreements through a Freedom of Information request. They have recently attended board meetings to express their concern over the contract and talked to the city’s former city administrator Jim Kasten, who retired last week.

“Jim told us that the city already had a contract with the company to maintain the city’s third water tower and that the city had been happy with its work,” Oster said. “He said the work involved is being looked at as ‘maintenance’ and that nothing could be done about the signed contracts.”

According to Missouri state policy, painting is not considered maintenance, it’s viewed as construction work and must be put out for bid, Oster said. Additionally, state policy discourages giving preferential treatment to contractors or bidders.

“We contacted the Missouri Attorney General’s office, and they said that basically, there was nothing they could about the matter because there’s no one to enforce city ordinances except the city itself.”

After Utility Services Co, Inc. completes the project over a three-year period, the yearly maintenance costs to the city will be $24,829 for one tower and $24,144 for the second tower, according to The Leader.

“It doesn’t cost that much to maintain a water tower each year,” said Whitworth. “This is taxpayer money they’re using to fund this, and it should have been put out to bid in the city’s own backyard. We have over 400 union painters in Jefferson County alone.”

Herculaneum Mayor Ryan Wright defended the decision, saying the painting of the 400,000 gallon water towers was “just a small part,” adding that the city would be paying prevailing wage on the work.

Oster disagrees that painting is just a small part of the project.

“The painting of the inside and outside of a water tower is a big project,” he said. “I hope they’ll reverse their decision. If not, we may consider bannering the project when it begins.”

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