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Ashland awards bid for projects

ASHLAND ' With a rare tie-breaking vote from Mayor John Morrison, the City Council narrowly awarded a contract for three projects to the sole bidder ' at 42 percent above the estimated cost.

The decision means about 125 property owners in the Nevada Street neighborhood who had expected to pay about &

36;575 each for sidewalks and crosswalks in a local improvement district (LID) levy will pay 10 percent more. The city will absorb the remaining increase, according to city staff.

The estimated cost for the bundle of three projects was &

36;379,751, but LTM Inc. bid &

36;538,470. The council majority did eliminate one project that would have covered sidewalk construction and repairs around town. The Nevada Street work and a project to extend sidewalks partially into the street to shorten the crossing distance for pedestrians at several downtown intersections will proceed at a cost of &

36;372,320.

Councilman David Chapman, who voted against awarding the contract, worried about the cost and said the downtown bump-outs might have to be removed after the Downtown Plan is updated and implemented.

We're being held hostage by one concrete company, Chapman said.

— Pointing out that one of the new bump-outs will be installed where a pedestrian was killed, Morrison said narrowing the distance that people have to be exposed is important.

The city had first bid out the projects in May, but a single bid came in at 48 percent higher than estimated. Bids were taken again in December and the plan was scheduled as a winter project in hopes of bringing the cost down, according to city staff.

But the city is still faced with a contractors' dream world, where contractors have more work than they can handle, according to Ashland city surveyor Jim Olson.

Resident Art Bullock urged the council not to approve the Nevada Street LID. He has sued the city in Jackson County Circuit Court over the legality of the project.

He argued the city incorrectly split costs among the existing neighbors and developers of Billings Ranch Homes to favor the developers, and that Ashland Public Works Director Paula Brown had a conflict of interest because she owned property in the local improvement district.

The court is scheduled to review the case in June, city officials said.

Morrison and council members Alex Amarotico, Cate Hartzell and Kate Jackson voted for the contract. Councilmen Jack Hardesty, Russ Silbiger and David Chapman voted against approval.

Amarotico, a co-owner of Standing Stone Brewing Co., said he had a potential conflict of interest in voting on the downtown bump-outs because of his brew pub's downtown location. But he said he did not feel that influenced his decision-making and the council did not ask him to recuse himself.

Vickie Aldous is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach her at 482-3456.