The Delaware County Board of Commissioners routinely approves expenditures running into the millions of dollars.
But it was a $24,045 services contact with MS Consultants Inc. that led to a spirited debate between Chief Deputy Engineer Rob Riley and Commissioner Ken O'Brien at the board's meeting Nov. 19.
The resolution eventually passed 2-1, with O'Brien casting the lone dissenting vote, allowing MS Consultants to conduct a feasibility study for improvements at the intersection of Hyatts and Shanahan roads and U.S. Route 23.
"The scope of this project would be constructing turn lanes on Hyatts Road and on Shanahan Road -- left-turn lanes, basically, to provide a protected, essentially a green arrow in both directions where there is none now," Riley said.
All three commissioners agreed improvements were needed at the intersection, as traffic backs up there during peak driving hours in the morning and after work. Riley said the feasibility study would determine whether the improvements should be made to the north or south of the intersection.
But O'Brien questioned the long-standing practice at the engineer's department of commissioning feasibility studies from the same firm that eventually will be asked to execute the project.
"The concern I have with this is," O'Brien said, "the way this project is designed could affect the cost. If it's taken to the south, it could be much less expensive than if it's taken to the north.
"And if you give the design to the engineering firm that comes up with (original) feasibility study ... they would have a self-interest in making that (recommended) plan the most-expensive plan."
Riley said it would be difficult to switch engineers in the middle of an ongoing project.
"There is additional effort for another contractor to come in and get up to speed with what exactly the first engineer did," Riley said, "and with that, there would be additional cost to bring in a second engineer. So I'm not sure that's the prudent thing to do in terms of cost and getting the end product we want and need out there."
Commissioner Tommy Thompson said the board should trust the experts in the engineer's department.
"I'm assuming that if there were critical questions or if something looked suspicious," Thompson said, "at that time your department would look into it, possibly getting input from somebody else to say, 'Is this legit?' The county engineer's department has done a good job and would look at anything suspicious and take steps to clarify those."
O'Brien called Thompson's comments a "straw-man argument. You're saying there are errors. I'm not suggesting there are errors. I'm suggesting there's a vested interest in a more-expensive outcome."
MS Consulting's feasibility study is due back the county engineer by June 2013.