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Missing record costs Trumbull extra $35K

WARREN — Taxpayers are left holding the bag for about $35,900 more than anticipated for county snow and ice trucks after a contract that was approved last year was never completed.

The county is set to pay the extra money for five snow and ice truck packages from Henderson Products of Bucyrus, Ohio, after the company hiked its prices, claiming pandemic and inflation-related problems, and the county was unable to produce a contract with the original agreed upon price.

The purchase was approved unanimously by Commissioners Frank Fuda, Niki Frenchko and Mauro Cantalamessa on March 31, 2021, at a total cost of $1,211,661 for the snow and ice packages from Henderson and five 2022 Freightliner Axle Dump Trucks from local vendor Fyda Freightliner Youngstown Inc. Approximately $592,342 of that was set to come out of a diesel mitigation grant from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

Attorney Jeff Goodman, speaking on behalf of the Trumbull County Engineer’s Office, addressed commissioners at their May 4 meeting, telling them that Henderson at the beginning of this year tried to raise the price from its original bid by more than $70,000. The engineer’s office told Henderson that it couldn’t do that because they had a contract — then found that there was no contract.

Fearing the county would lose if it sued Henderson without a signed contract, Goodman negotiated to split the difference, arriving at the $35,900 figure.

“And that is the point of this story: the lack of diligence … and the chaos and the lack of attention to detail has become an epidemic in the commissioner’s office,” Goodman said.

Fuda on Wednesday tried to defend the apparent clerical miscommunication by reading a letter penned by County Clerk Paula Vivoda-Klotz, who was a journal clerk when the original purchase was approved.

Frenchko blocked Fuda’s efforts to read the letter by repeatedly speaking over him and asserting that it was after 10:30 a.m. and it was time for the meeting to start. County Engineer Randy Smith, on the phone, also joined the argument.

Vivoda-Klotz’s letter says that she followed the normal contract procedure for that purchase and prepared a fiscal officer’s certificate. After completing a certain amount of the paperwork, she “put the contract aside” and waited to hear from the engineer’s office. She had been told earlier that getting the equipment may take a long time due to the pandemic.

The letter went on to say that the fiscal officer’s certificate covered both Fyda and Henderson, suggesting that might convince Henderson to honor its original quote.

Smith said the commissioners office has been responsible for obtaining paperwork for as long as he can remember. A Feb. 28, 2022, letter from the engineer’s office to the commissioners lists the Fyda truck contracts and Henderson snowplow contracts among those still awaiting action from the commissioners, along with eight other bulleted items.

“While we endeavor to track contracts from start to finish, the misfeasance, malfeasance and non-feasance of the commissioners and their staff nonetheless often prove to be insurmountable hurdles,” that letter, signed by county engineers office Director of Finance and Personnel Herbert Laukhart, reads.

In a statement Wednesday, Commissioner Fuda suggested the “entire situation” could have better been resolved by “a couple phone calls” rather than a lawyer attending a meeting.

“We do more to prepare contracts for the highway engineers than we do for other departments like sanitary and planning commission,” Fuda said. “We do that because we believe in the spirit of cooperation, and most of all, because we recognize that we are all on the same team.”

Speaking later, Fuda said he was unhappy that Frenchko interrupted him during the meeting.

“Everything she’s doing — she won’t let us have a meeting,” he said.

After the meeting, Frenchko said that it was important to let taxpayers know about the additional cost and how it happened.

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