Government

Iowa House committee backs competitive bids on lease-purchase projects

Bill aimed at Linn County plans for public health building

This rendering shows the new Dr. Percy and Lileah Harris Public Health and Child and Youth Development Services building planned for 1019 Seventh St. SE in Cedar Rapids. The Linn County Board of Supervisors in January 2018 OK’d its construction in a lease-purchase agreement. (OPN Architects)
This rendering shows the new Dr. Percy and Lileah Harris Public Health and Child and Youth Development Services building planned for 1019 Seventh St. SE in Cedar Rapids. The Linn County Board of Supervisors in January 2018 OK’d its construction in a lease-purchase agreement. (OPN Architects)

DES MOINES — Public entities would be required to seek competitive bids for construction projects costing more than $100,000 and being built under their control under language adopted by an Iowa House committee Thursday.

Linn County supervisors’ decision not to open up a $31.5 million public health building project to any and all interested bidders was the impetus for House Study Bill 568, which was approved by the House Local Government Committee on a party-line vote.

The bill was amended to change the definition of “public improvement” to include projects paid for in whole or in part with public money, whether they are being built by the government entity or if a commitment has been made by the government before construction to pay for the facility.

The amendment would not apply to emergency repairs, low-rent housing, urban renewal demolition, industrial aid projects and road and bridge projects.

Linn County’s lease-purchase approach with selected local contractors has been opposed by groups representing contractors and those who say a deep pool of bidders is necessary to protect taxpayer interests. Lobbyists for a variety of interest groups had objected to a little-used provision of state law that allows a local government to have a developer build a project to its specifications and then buy the building at a predetermined price.

Linn County supervisors received two proposals from the seven developers they approached about submitting proposals for a lease-purchase agreement for the public health building.

Democrats plan to offer an amendment when the bill gets to the House floor to increase transparency and to improve the bidding process to allow public entities, including the Board of Regents, to consider factors other than the lowest bid, Rep. Art Staed, D-Cedar Rapids, said.

Linn County supervisors plan to make a decision on the construction proposals by mid-February.

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Lawmakers questioned whether it is possible to pass the bill, which would take effect upon enactment, in the House and Senate and get the governor’s signature before mid-February.

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