By Amy Wenk

The city of Sandy Springs is collecting information and setting timelines for the rebidding of its government services contract.

Since Jan. 1, 2006, the city of Sandy Springs has contracted the firm CH2M HILL to staff city departments such as community development, finance, parks and recreation, public works and communications.

Contracting some services was the best choice when the city incorporated in 2005, city officials say. The city only staffs the police and fire departments and a handful of high-level positions including the finance director and city manager.

“When the contract was put out for bid, nobody had any idea what they were doing,” Dist. 5 Sandy Springs City Councilman Tibby DeJulio said during a council retreat in March. “We didn’t know what the heck was supposed to be in a city … We went into this thing strictly on faith.”

Despite the inexperience, the city’s first contract turned out better than expected, DeJulio said. “The city staff has turned out to be wonderful.”

But by the time the city’s contract with CH2M HILL terminates Dec. 11, 2011, the city must re-evaluate the scope of services, rewrite the contract, seek bids and evaluate submissions. CH2M HILL is expected to submit a proposal along with other companies.

“It is going to be a staggering job,” DeJulio said.

Although DeJulio said the board is going into the process with “eyes wide open,” many questions linger about developing the new contract.

“We are getting a good product but are we paying the right amount?” DeJulio said. “There are a lot of things in the contract that are not specified or spelled out” like work change orders and procedures about how to transition staff if CH2M HILL is not the winning bid.

“CH2M HILL knows more about the city than we do,” Dist. 3 Councilman Chip Collins said at the retreat.

CH2M HILL staff cannot give the city information as how to craft the request for proposal. It would make it illegal for the company to bid on the contract.

“Right now, we are in the process of collecting information,” DeJulio said. That includes gathering public input and interviewing council members.

Citizens can comment on the city’s public-private structure on April 20. The hearing is at 6 p.m. at City Hall, 7840 Roswell Road.

Only two people spoke at the last public hearing in March. One was Oliver Porter, who championed the idea to outsource services when the city was forming.

But more than 250 comments have been collected from a survey on the city’s Web site. Mayor Eva Galambos in March said 95 percent of the online comments were positive and 80 percent of the respondents found the service to be excellent.

“I think the company has been fair to us,” Galambos said. She gave CH2M HILL favorable comments at the retreat.

Galambos also said she expects the city will receive lower bids from competitors.

“It is an issue,” Galambos said. “Quality should be considered, not just money.”

City officials are organizing the bidding timeline.

“There is an unbelievable amount of uncertainty in City Hall,” City Manager John McDonough said at the retreat. “We know we need to move forward in this process.”

The city is considering terminating CH2M HILL’s current contract six months early to align the new contract with the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2011.

That recommendation came from a contract committee consisting of DeJulio, McDonough, Dist. 1 Councilman John Paulson, Dist. 4 Councilwoman Ashley Jenkins, City Attorney Wendell Willard and Assistant City Attorney Cecil McClendon that has been meeting for about four months.

The committee suggested the city have a request for proposal to send out by Nov. 1. Proposals would be due back Jan. 1, 2011 and two months would be spent selecting the best contractor.