The New Rochelle City Council voted unanimously July 10th 2012 to approve borrowing $1.5 million to buy an LED lighting system for the City-owned garages at New Roc City and the New Rochelle Transit Center. The project is now moving forward despite a lack of independent review and a failure to solicit competitive bids.
As a long-time New Rochelle resident, familiar with the New Rochelle DPW's checkered past regarding purchasing decisions, and more than three decades in the field of Architectural Lighting, I suggest this deal needs to be examined under, if you will forgive me, more light. Without fully understanding the science involved, the City intends to pay northward of 1.5 million dollars, using borrowed money, for a new and emerging technology. While LED Lighting is coming to the forefront of the Architectural world as a means of saving energy and saving maintenance dollars that alone does not make this a good deal. Further examination is required.
The driving force behind this deal is Con Edison Solutions and the New York Power Authority who have their own agenda -- to minimize demand on their aging infrastructure. Clearly saving energy is a great aspect to this deal, especially for environments like parking garages where the lighting can be on 24 hours per day 365 days per year. While reduction of power consumption is always a worthwhile objective, there are other goals that any municipality must consider including the longevity of the system, the appropriateness the solution, getting the best price, and providing for the safety and security of its residents, to name a few. Those considerations are absent from this deal.
With my own practical knowledge and understanding, I am well aware that LED lighting systems can last 20 years but over time the output will decrease depending on the quality of what has been purchased. Thus at a certain point there may not be enough light for the task at hand even after a few short years. There is the potential that the City of New Rochelle could be paying for something that is illuminated but not illuminating enough. With the amount of security issues surrounding North Avenue near the Transit Center and New Roc in the past and present, it is imperative that the City be certain that what they are buying is going to do its job today and into the future.
The only way to insure the City is buying a truly long-term solution is to hire an outside firm to provide an independent professional opinion and by setting criteria which will set out the requirements and define how the system should operate over the long haul. We refer to this in our industry as a "Performance Specification." The cost of this is in the area of $2,500.
There are also questions as to whether the City of New Rochelle is even getting the best price for the LED Lighting solution they intend to purchase.
New Rochelle DPW Commissioner Alex Tergis, in an exchange of emails over the past week, has shown that he set up the bids for both Garages through a single source manufacturer, Cree Lighting, which offered two of their vendors as the bidders on the contract. Cree was, in turn, recommended by Con Edison Solutions and the New York Power Authority. In effect, this is a package deal coming from the electric company and, as noted above, their goal is one-dimensional -- reduce demand for electricity. Despite this, the City of New Rochelle is relying on Con Edison Solutions and the New York Power Authority to define the specifications, and set the goals of the project, determining the equipment used, provide the financing and hand-pick the vendors.
These same officials have already been burned by another utility, United Water of New Rochelle, and have railed against the Public Service Commission in the past yet now they want to take the word of another utility regulated by the PSC.
I do not believe New Rochelle taxpayers should be footing the bill for what amounts to a non-competitive 1.5 million dollar expenditure of lighting based upon the words and promises from one manufacturer partnered with an entity that does not have the needs of New Rochelle residents at the top of their list.
I expect that Mr. Tergis has expertise for some of the purchases he makes as the DPW Commissioner but to spend large sums of borrowed money on complex technology without the help of a trained expert is to play Russian Roulette, with the gun held at the head of taxpayers. Would Mr. Tergis or Mr. Strome spend a large sum of money on new technology for their own home based solely on the claims of a salesperson? I think not. Yet, in this case, Mr. Tergis is willing to accept, at face value, the promises of one manufacturer as his guide for this purchase. This same manufacture has provided Mr. Tergis with two special bidders for this project. The manufacturer is partnered with Con Edison.
Has the City Council already forgotten about Richard Fevang? Was there not a discussion just a few months ago about tightening up the bidding process following the 66-Count Fraud Indictment brought against one of Mr. Tergis' top aides in the DPW? I am not suggesting that fraud is involved here but the entire point of competitive bidding is to avoid a scenario where the bidders are in a position to conspire to inflate prices. With both vendors working with the same manufacturer Cree, one company is orchestrating the entire deal.
Let’s not forget we are also financing this same purchase for 20+ years, piling more debt on a City that has already seen downgrades by rating agencies and is now planning to borrow many millions to finance a new City Yard. Compounding matters is the strong likelihood that the City is overpaying for a system that may not meet its needs in just a few short years.
This is not to say the City should not purchase LED lighting, or do so through a Con Edison program or that there are any technical problems with Cree Lighting products. This may, in fact, be a good a deal. It is just the City officials have no way of knowing that and the City Council voted unanimously last month in the belief that Mr. Tergis and Mr. Strome do know this is a good deal when that is not possible without independent review.
In my long experience in the field, I know the best way to pursue this kind of large purchase is to first hire a professional trained Lighting Consultant or Lighting Engineer to create a performance specification based upon the needs of the City of New Rochelle. I know to get the best price, it is critical to open up the bidding to include vendors working with 3 to 4 other manufacturers.
The failure to do this is just another example of buying garbage trucks that don’t fit under our overpasses, or buying hybrid garbage trucks that do not run, or buying parking meters that are easily vandalized. How many times do our City officials need to learn the same lesson: do not rely on people with a vested interest in the outcome to drive your purchase decisions?
I am all for green. I am all for saving energy and lowering maintenance costs. Yet, we have already seen how rushing to "Green" New Rochelle without proper planning ends up costing us all of in the long run. It is sad to see our City officials keep making the same mistakes over and over again.
It is, however, not to late.
I would urge residents to demand an independent, professional review of the lighting needs at the two garages and a truly competitive purchasing method by contacting members of City Council.