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City awaits word in Riley Bros. case

Poor sewers and crumbling roads are just two of the reasons the City of Morris will rebuild East 2nd Street beginning next spring. The construction work will stretch from Atlantic Avenue to beyond the Regional Fitness Center.

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

The City of Morris is committed to a infrastructure repair project on East 2nd Street, but the City Council is delaying it to some extent to see how Riley Bros.'s legal situation plays out.

The city has approved measures to keep the $2.4 million East 2nd Street project moving ahead since last year, but at the council's meeting on Tuesday, the council voted to table a resolution calling for bids and approving the plans.

Riley Bros.'s owner Joe Riley and John Riley pled guilty late last year to defrauding revenue agencies, and the company currently is suspended from bidding on government contracts.

State and federal officials are reviewing the Riley Bros.'s case to determine if the company should be "debarred" from bidding on any government contracts for between one year and three years.

Over the years, Morris-based Riley Bros. has successfully bid on numerous local projects, and its presence in Morris has helped keep other bids on local projects lower, city officials stated.

"Riley's is one of the better companies we work with and we really want them at the table bidding on our project," City Manager Blaine Hill said.

The city originally had planned an April 6 bid opening, but the council delayed action on the resolution until its next meeting on March 9. A ruling on the Riley Bros.'s case is expected early in March.

The council also discussed possibly shelving the East 2nd Street project for a year, both to see what happens with Riley Bros. and with the state budget crisis.

It's not likely planning done by the city and engineers on the project so far will be out of date by 2011, Mayor Sheldon Giese said.

"If we take a breather this year, we haven't thrown a lot away yet."

Jeff Kuhn, an engineer with the city's engineering firm Widseth, Smith and Nolting, said he can't predict if the city will receive higher or lower bids by delaying action on the project by a month.

"It's a guessing game on how bids will differ from April to May," Kuhn said. "It all depends on the current atmosphere and what's happening with contractors. I can't say if it's a positive or a negative waiting a month."

Hill noted that bids for city work in Highland Homes last summer came in about $500,000 under estimate. If Riley Bros. is not in the bidding picture, "that probably won't be the case this year," he said.

In other city business:

•The city approved a county project within city limits to overlay County State Aid Highway 22, which runs by the fairgrounds and city garage.

The project will be paid for entirely with federal stimulus money.

The city also is attempting to garner stimulus money to pay for future work on Park Avenue from Highway 9 to Wyoming Avenue and on to 5th Street, and on California Avenue from South Street to Elm Street.

"We're getting in line for (the stimulus money)," Kuhn said. "Whether it comes to fruition, the lawmakers have yet to decide."

•The council agreed to remove certain assessments for a property on East 4th Street that was recently purchased by the Stevens County Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

Nora Jost, HRA director, received city approval to have $3,452 in mowing expenses and road project assessments removed from the books. She said demolition of the property likely would begin in April.

The HRA paid about $7,500 to purchase the property and will spend about $3,500 for demolition. The HRA also will pay off a $6,600 street assessment, as well as other expenses related to the property's upkeep this winter, Jost said.