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Locking it up

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Astronauts have joked that right before liftoff they’ve pondered the fact that they’re sitting atop pressurized and fueled rockets — all equipped and constructed by low bidders.

That may not be the most comforting thought when a tiny leak in the vacuum of space could mean the difference life and death. The mind starts racing about what contractors may have skimped on in order to shave costs and win the bid. Let’s hope it wasn’t something critical.

Fortunately, not all government contracts have such perils attached to them. Nonetheless it’s important for municipal entities to get their money’s worth when hiring vendors.

Members of the Watertown City Council have for the past several months debated the merits of hiring a security firm based in New York City to provide unarmed guards at the Roswell P. Flower Memorial Library. Officials and staff members at the library have expressed growing concerns about alarming incidents in the building over the past few years. These include finding a loaded gun in a restroom, several drug deals, fights between patrons, a man selling urine from a dog for urine tests and numerous property thefts.

After soliciting contractors for the project, the City Council in September considered the low bid by Denog Protective Security Services Inc. of $15.35 per hour. City staffers had recommended the bid be accepted.

But council members — Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham and Councilwoman Roxanne M. Burns in particular — were skeptical that a company from the Bronx could offer the level of service they wanted. The firm had no office in the north country, and so questions were raised about how hiring for the library project would be conducted.

City Purchasing Manager Amy M. Pastuf said the owner of the company declared he would cover shifts as a guard at the library if necessary. But seeing that he’d have to drive about five hours each way to do so, this pledge invited doubts.

The City Council opted to reject all submissions and put the project back out for bid. Denog Protective Security Services once again came in the lowest, this time at $17.81 per hour.

In a 3-2 vote Monday night, the council awarded the contract to Denog Protective Security Services. Mayor Graham and Councilwoman Burns remained unconvinced and voted against the plan.

But the company has now opened an office in Watertown and hired a local manager. The owner also told city staff members that he intended to expand his company’s presence here and hire more employees from the region.

Perhaps it’s not an ideal situation, but officials don’t have many other options. If they want to carry this plan forward, council members will eventually have to accept the lowest bidder. And this firm will most likely come in at that spot time and again.

Awarding this contract to Denog Protective Security Services was the best decision the council could make under the circumstances. If other security firms offer better bids in the near future, the council can explore this option. But in the meantime, keep an eye on this firm to ensure it’s filling the bill.

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