March 29, 2010

Special Interests Strike Again

Justin Katz

This, reported in the weekend edition of the Newport Daily News, is very typical of the way Rhode Island does business:

The state has cited the company Newport’s water division hired to install new radio-read meters at all 14,500 water accounts in the city and in Middletown for not having master plumbers do the work.

The notice of violation from the state’s Division of Workforce Regulation and Safety caught the city by surprise.

Julia A. Forgue, Newport’s director of utilities, said forcing the city to hire master plumbers to change the meters would increase the project’s cost by two to three times. The contractor is appealing the decision to the Department of Labor and Training.

Non-plumber city employees have been changing and maintaining meters for years. These little requirements, jacking up the cost of living and operating in Rhode Island for the benefit of politically connected interest groups (notably unions), are why I say that the state could rocket out of its perennial recession if only it would toss aside its unnecessary burdens. This case is even more egregious, because the change of meters isn't self-initiated:

The state's Public Utilities Commission asked Newport to convert all water meters to ones that can be read from the street with a radio device, to reduce long-term costs and to make meter reading more efficient. The city in July 2008 awarded a contract to Stiles Co. Inc. of Norwood, Mass., to provide the meters. Stiles hired Five Oaks Construction Co. of Groton, Mass., as the subcontractor to install the meters, and it began the work in December 2008. By the end of last month, Five Oaks had installed just over 5,550 meters.

So, an unelected state board is requiring the change, and the state government is requiring that it be excessively expensive. Little wonder Rhode Islanders feel powerless (and just leave when the state hits their thresholds for tolerance of reductions in their quality of life).

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And just who is Stiles Company of Norwood MA? What was in Newport's mind when they hired an out of state company, who in turn subcontracts the biz to another company Five Oaks Construction Co.?

Why didn't a RI company bid and win as low bidder? Where is the initiative in this state?

This is a bizarre story on several levels.

Posted by: BobW at March 29, 2010 10:13 AM

Many of these contracts have requirements and those are agreed upon by the folks who bid.

I don't know what is going on here, but someone should get the facts. In MA, I think, a certain wage must be paid.

You can't make up your own rules in the plumbing dept. As benign as it might sound, there is a reason that plumbing is covered by strict code.

I'm all for saving money, but it does seem like this should have been kept in-state and perhaps in-house. Even if not actually done by licensed plumbers, it should be inspected and overseen by either them or an engineer. It is, after all, a large part of public works.

Posted by: Stuart at March 29, 2010 10:43 AM

Are the city employees that used to install the meters union employees, Is there a stipulation that states the master plumbers have to be union?

It sounds like the city gave public sector union jobs to non union plumbers, or at the very least private sector union plumbers. Out of state ones at that.

Posted by: michael at March 29, 2010 10:44 AM

When I lived in Woonsocket the City water meter reader would plug his reader into a receptacle mounted on the outside of my house to read the meter.

Then the City of Woonsocket came up with the lame idea to install the radio transmitter water meters to save money. The meter reader could just drive down the street and read all the meter without getting out of the vehicle.

I said no installation at my house and the City of Woonsocket demanded to install or they would shut off my water and I said great I'll go to court and sue the pants off the city!

I owned my property outright and the City of Woonsocket was demanding to place a radio transmitter on my property without 1st asking permission, 2 not providing health and safety testing documentation and laboratory certification to safety.

We all now know after years of testing digital cell phones they might be causing cancer after prolonged use.

Needless to say, I won and the City of Woonsocket did not change my meter however that is not to say they change it after I sold my house to move to Hawaii.

Posted by: Ken at March 29, 2010 8:44 PM

What's the problem with out-of-state contractors? If they can do the job cheaper whats the problem? We have to pay in-state people more just because they are from Rhode Island? And we wonder why people are leaving this place in droves? And why is it so complicated that we need a master plumber to put a meter on a pipe? Isn't it great that we have these unions to look out for these master plumbers who are so talented and experienced that only they can put a meter on a pipe.

What a joke.

Posted by: Dan at March 29, 2010 9:15 PM

Does anyone understand that the State-wide RI Building Code which includes the Plumbing code is there to protect the life, safety and welfare of the occupants of a dwelling? There are different levels of individual contractor licensing which relates to what may be performed without higher license oversight.

This has nothing to do with the unions and driving up the cost. It's about life safety!

A wrongly installed water meter can cause electrical shock and death to the occupants.

Justin you are fishing and making something out of nothing. Take time to read the State and local municipal building codes and also the Life Safety Code before you accidentally kill someone.

Posted by: Ken at March 29, 2010 10:40 PM

I think Dan has a decent idea for the future of Rhode Island. So what if most everybody leaves? We could level some of the bad stuff, make it more of a tourist attraction and entice all the successful people from Ma. and Ct. and Ny. to buy 2nd and 3rd homes here.

Problem solved. It really is quite scenic when you remove a lot of the people and blight.

Poor and middle class people, according to libertarian values, have no right to live anywhere near the ocean - if others are willing to pay more for the privilege. So why play games? Let's just, like Hawaii, declare RI the place where we want you to visit, but not to live.

The future belongs to those who know their places.

Posted by: Stuart at March 29, 2010 10:41 PM

The previous comment in this thread posted by "Dan" was not posted by me. I assume that it was posted by Stuart in light of his last comment.

Posted by: Dan at March 30, 2010 9:59 AM