MERIDEN — Officials seek the City Council’s backing on a plan to bolster the city’s purchasing department by hiring someone who specializes in the preparation of complex bids and contracts.
The purchasing department operates under the supervision of the city’s finance director. The purchasing department itself is led by a purchasing officer, who in turn supervises a procurement specialist and purchasing specialist.
Both the purchasing officer and purchasing specialist positions recently became vacant, with the individuals who held those positions moving on to similar roles in other municipalities. City officials now seek the council’s approval to upgrade that vacant purchasing specialist position to a contract specialist.
On Tuesday night, City Manager Timothy Coon and Finance Director Kevin McNabola discussed the rationale behind the proposed upgrade with members of the council’s Finance Committee.
According to a proposed job description the contract specialist would be a “specialized Purchasing position requiring strict attention to detail in preparing complex bids and contracts.”
The position’s work, according to that description, includes preparing complex construction bid documents for the purchasing department, following all federal, state and local procurement regulations, as well as preparing contracts to be signed by city officials and successful bidders.
That position’s immediate tasks will involve preparing bid documents and contracts funded through American Rescue Plan Act monies.
McNabola explained the reason for restructuring the city’s purchasing department is “to meet the needs where the city is today, versus where it was about two to three years ago.”
He said the purchasing specialist job will be eliminated and incorporated into a contract specialist.
McNabola said that position’s “major focus” is on construction and engineering related projects.
“This individual will be responsible for overseeing the bid process for all of our major infrastructure projects that are going on currently,” McNabola said. The finance director listed examples of the types of projects this individual would oversee that include the ongoing renovation and expansion of the Meriden Public Library, the design of an upgraded senior center facility, potential relocation of the health department, as well as the planned relocation of the city’s emergency communications center.
On top of that, McNabola said, the city has 40 ongoing projects funded through the American Rescue Plan Act, with 12 to 15 of those projects having detailed engineering designs in place. Among the ARPA funded projects in place is $5 million commercial space upgrade program.
“The needs for this individual are a little bit specialized,” McNabola said, adding the person hired to that role should have experience dealing with certified payrolls as well as following state and federal guidelines regarding procurement and contracts.
The position would boost pay from the purchasing specialist’s starting salary of $65,000 to a starting base between $67,000 to $70,000, McNabola said. If accepted by the council, the position will continue to be union represented, as part of the Meriden Municipal Employees union.
The council’s Personnel Committee also will review the proposal and issue a report to the council as a whole recommending its adoption before the latter acts on it.
During the Finance Committee’s discussion, Mayor Kevin Scarpati suggested that given a significant portion of the position’s duties would be related to ARPA-funded project management, a portion of its salary over the next few years could be off-set by those same funds. The city received a total of $36.3 million in ARPA funds.
“Is that something being considered?” Scarpati asked. The mayor later noted that some city positions are solely funded through federal grant programs, including the Community Development Block Grant. Scarpati asked if grant funds become available to offset salary costs, if that use of funds would need to be approved by the council, or if the city could offset those costs administratively.
Coon responded that the request would go through the ARPA Steering Committee, and then through the council.
“This would certainly qualify for ARPA funding, no question about that,” Coon said, adding in terms of accounting, it would be reflected as a reduction in the finance department’s overall salary costs.
Scarpati, when reached by phone a day later described the upgrade position as not only warranted, but one with which the city can be creative regarding how it is funded.
“We need somebody who is going to be hands on with some of these construction projects,” Scarpati said.