SWEET HOME — After months of discussions, the Sweet Home City Council approved ending a 14-year relationship with Jacobs Engineering Group for the operation of the city water plant.
The annual contract was for about $1.03 million.
The action comes after a March 2019 audit of the 10-year-old facility turned up more than four dozen repair and maintenance issues that had not been addressed. Issues ranged from broken door closures to a nonworking HVAC furnace. Some equipment was obsolete and a 24-inch valve was not working properly.
Jacobs Vice President Efrain Rodriguez told councilors he would like to hold a workshop for the city and Jacobs at which issues and a long-term revision of the contract could be addressed. He said Jacobs’ goal has always been to “enhance the contract and driving (monetary) savings” to the city.
But councilman Dave Trask told Rodriguez it was too late and that he no longer trusted the company.
“I definitely have trust issues here,” Trask said. “We’ve had this agreement with your company for almost 20 years and we would need to see major changes. If you hadn’t gotten caught, where would we be in a year?”
Trask said the city and Jacobs “should never have gotten here,” referring to the maintenance issues.
Councilor Susan Coleman was absent, but councilors Cortney Nash, Lisa Gourley, Diane Gerson, James Goble and Mayor Greg Mahler concurred with Trask’s comments.
The action follows a Jan. 14 work session at which council members agreed that the city would be better off developing a plan to hire employees to manage the plant or find another management firm rather than continue in its management relationship with Jacobs.
In late 2019, the city provided Jacobs with a list of demands:
• The base operations contract would remain about $1.03 million. Jacobs had requested a 3% increase.
• The city hired a utilities manager to address the plant's maintenance issues, asking that Jacobs fund the position since the city believes the position was necessitated by the firm's failure to meet standards.
• Maintenance issues would be fixed by Nov. 1, 2020.
Jacobs agreed to hold the contract cost at its current level and make all necessary repairs. The company said it would not fund the utilities management position.
Rodriguez said the company will continue to work with the city through its transition period, which will be about six months. The city will have to pay Jacobs about $53,000 to terminate the contract.
Mayor Greg Mahler said that the city’s letter to Jacobs was “not open for negotiation.”
In other business, the councilors:
• Heard a third and final reading of an ordinance that would prohibit the use of transit shelters as sleeping areas.
• Had first and second readings of an ordinance to update the city’s license and fee structures.
• Approved a liquor license change due to new ownership of Mr. Lucky’s Deli at 1207 Long St., by Jane Suh of Salem.
• Learned that the Public Works Department repaired 153 potholes and swept 192 miles of streets in January.
• Learned that in January, the city's Development Department issued 23 permits for projects valued at $495,000 and collected $9,608 in fees.