Playing Favorites?



By now most property owners have received their pre-Thanksgiving gifts from the Cascade County tax folks. A significant amount of the universal tax increase is due to the 2016 $98M school bond passage, the last 1/3 of the bond sale is now reflected in your tax amounts.

Once you have recovered from the initial shock, it would be a good time to ask how the school district is doing in spending that 1/10 of a billion dollars of your hard-earned money.

What was touted by the school district was to accomplish not only repairs to our aging schools, but to build two brand new elementary schools to replace Roosevelt and Longfellow. In addition the school district planned major new construction at CMR and Great Falls High. To this end, the school district promised to “spread the work around” to the benefit of the larger economy of Great Falls. Did that really happen?

The result was that out of the four major projects, one architectural firm received both the new Giant Springs Elementary (replacement for Roosevelt) and the new Longfellow Elementary. One general contractor received three major projects, Giant Springs, Longfellow, and the granddaddy of them all, the Great Falls High School additions and renovations totaling approximately $68M. The general contract for CMR was approximately $8M.

None of the general construction contracts were competitively bid! They were awarded based on subjectively awarded cost-plus alternative delivery contracts. For those who don’t know, here are brief definitions and an explanation of the differences between cost-plus and competitive bidding:

Cost-Plus (Time And Material) With Fixed Fee

In the case of a Cost-Plus contract, there is typically a lack of detailed plans. With this contract, the general contractor is paid for all costs accumulated, and paid a fee for overhead and profit as well as general conditions while the owner assumes all risks of excessive costs. It’s common for the general contractor to use an incentive provision to motivate cost savings.

Competitive, or lump-sum, bidding

The lump-sum contract is when the contractor agrees to complete all work for a pre-determined price including profit and the contract.

The school district’s selection committees were comprised of district employees and elected school board members, none of whom were licensed design professionals, or construction engineers.

Montana law allows for alternate project delivery contracts, without competitive bidding.

18-2-502. Alternative project delivery contract — authority — criteria. (1) Subject to the provisions of this part, a state agency or a governing body may use an alternative project delivery contract. 

But cautions that:

(3) The state agency or the governing body shall make a detailed written finding that in using an alternative project delivery contract will not: (a) encourage favoritism or bias awarding the contract; or (b) substantially diminish competition for the contract. (Emphasis added.)

Without a trained and experienced selection committee, do you think favoritism could be a problem?

Because of the inherent dangers of the alternative project delivery cost-plus option, the State of Montana specifically makes such contract invalid and illegal as follows:

Cost-Plus System Invalid

MCA18-2-314. Cost-plus system invalid. Any contracts made by, on behalf of, or for the state of Montana which shall directly or indirectly recognize the cost-plus system or principle shall be void and of no effect and this section shall stand as a notice of the invalidity of any such contract.

The fact is that Great Falls has several capable and experienced construction firms and the best way to insure that the taxpayers are getting the best bang for their tax bucks is to give all firms the opportunity to competitively bid on public projects.

Favoritism, cronyism, and bias should not be even remotely tolerated.

Judging from the Office of Political Practices C-6 reporting forms for YES for Great Falls Kids, June 23, 2016, most Great Falls contractors might know how the game is played here. The following lists pre-election donations to the YES political action committee whose primary purpose was to advocate and campaign for voter passage of the school bond, tax proceeds which would go towards paying private construction companies:

Dick Anderson Construction $5,000

Tabacco Investments, LLC $4,000

Bradley Talcott $10,000

Editor’s Note: E-City Beat recently learned that the Great Falls Public School District made $7M-$9M of interest on your bond tax dollars and plans to spend it as they see fit instead of returning it to the property tax payers of Great Falls. Maybe they will elect to cut down more of our trees, or damage Great Falls High more than they already have?

You be the judge if the school district is acting in the best interests of the taxpayers and vote in our poll.

[poll id=”15″]



Posted by Philip M. Faccenda

Philip M. Faccenda is an AIA award-winning architect and planner. He is the Editor-in-Chief of E-City Beat.

Reader interactions

2 Replies to “Playing Favorites?”

  1. If you bid on a project for my property better believe it will
    Be competitive. Been burned by that cost plus in my life. Get it right the first time.


  2. If that’s the interest on the principle, why not use it to pay down/pay off the principle early? Like making extra principle payments on a home loan. If they did that, maybe the voters would be more inclined to play ball with them.


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