St. Clair Shores City Council took a step toward a new 40th District Court Monday night by approving a $3.5-million bid for a new building.
The final vote came after heated discussion during public comment and debate by council members about the project to replace the 80-year-old building.
Residents, union leaders and some council members expressed their concern about awarding the contract to bidder who was not going to pay a prevailing wage.
But after nearly two hours of debate, discussion and rejected counter-proposals, council voted 5-2 to approve the bid and direct the contractor to attempt to use union labor.
"It is a building whose lifetime has passed," said Ben Hughes, St. Clair Shores city manager. "Pumping money into a building that needs repairs, that is nearly 80-years-old, is not a wise decision."
Six general contractors bid on the project, and the winning bid went to St. Clair Shores-based Bernco, Inc. Included in the cost estimates are the cost of demolition, relocating the court to the former St. Gertrude School and construction of a new building.
Hughes added that he authorized bid specifications to be sent out that did not include language for prevailing wage.
"I determined mandating prevailing wage would result in me bringing back bid results to this council that would be significantly higher than $3.5 million," said Hughes, after the lengthy public comment. "I fully understand the comments tonight. I also have the responsibility to be a good steward of tax dollars."
The project, as proposed Monday night, would cost $3.5 million. It would be funded through $1.8 million currently in the court building fund, and the balance through the sale of municipal bonds.
Hughes said the funding structure will not require general fund dollars be used for the project.
Resident J.R. Kettler addressed council and stated that the city would not be getting the highest quality workmanship by using non-union labor.
"You think you are saving money," said Kettler, a union sheet metal worker. "You are not saving money."
Mayor pro-tem Peter Rubino spoke in favor of bid as proposed, and added a provision initially brought up by councilman Ron Frederick to allow unions to bid on the project using "target funds."
"Do we want to not put people to work because we can't afford the prevailing wage? Or do we want to put people to work," Rubino said. "That is what it boils down to, we can't afford the bids when it comes to prevailing wage.
"I would rather have people working than not working at all," he added.
Councilman Chris Vitale voted against the proposal. He expressed his concern about the "razor thin" margin of the budget for the project, the fact the city didn't consider alternative locations to allow for private development at 11 Mile and Jefferson, and the quality of the laborers.
"When you choose contractors from trade unions, you at least have some assurance of their skill level," Vitale said. "This is not a kitchen remodel. This is not the kind of project where you choose people from the labor wanted section of Craigslist."
The court building is the biggest municipal building construction project since City Hall was renovated and rehabilitated in 1999.