County reentry contract vote to be delayed, discussions ongoing

A long-awaited vote to award a new contract for the Lycoming County reentry services to either Firetree Limited or the incumbent GEO Group may have to wait a while longer.

The county commissioners held a public discussion Tuesday, comparing the proposals from both Firetree and GEO for reentry services, which help county prisoners rejoin the community as well as help control the prison population.

Initially, the commissioners hoped to take action on the contract at Thursday’s meeting. However, after discussion and advice from solicitor J. David Smith and Mya Toon, chief procurement officer, the commissioners agreed chances are slim that the matter will be resolved this week.

The request for proposal committee, a group that reviews and grades bid submissions, recommended last week that the commissioners award the contract to the GEO Group, a national organization that first was awarded the county contract in June of 2014.

In its bid, GEO quotes a daily rate of $23 per 80 or more participants, totaling about $671,600 per year. For fewer than 80 participants, the cost will be closer to $32 per person per day for an annual total of about $760,000.

Firetree gave a daily price of $22 per person for between 76 and 88 participants, totaling about $706,640 annually. At $20 per person for 89 or more participants, Firetree comes in at about $649,700.

Commissioner Rick Mirabito said he believes both companies can do the job but thinks Firetree’s proposal is more appealing due to the local factor as well as being about 28 percent cheaper based on providing services to 100 participants per day — GEO’s current occupancy — at the proposed rates.

“In the budget situation that we’re in, we have to think about that,” Mirabito said. “The other factor that weighs heavily on my mind is that, with two similarly situated programs, one of them is a local vendor.”

Commissioner Jack McKernan said that, while GEO’s bid is more costly, the grade given for its overall scope of services is higher than Firetree’s. Out of 200 total points, GEO was graded at 175 and Firetree was 112.

“Right now, the GEO grading appears to be quite a bit better,” he said. “It’s not close enough, at this point in time, to say, ‘Hey, give the local guy a shot.’ Maybe something will change but, right now, that’s the way I see it.”

Commissioner Tony Mussare agreed that keeping business local is important but, legally, when granting a contract based on a request for proposal, the commissioners can’t base their selection on location.

The commissioners’ solicitor explained that, because they did not have to go through a request for proposal, they have the option to do things differently.

“If you wanted to choose a local vendor, or a better price or any other consideration so long as it wasn’t overly frivolous, you could have done that,” Smith advised. “Once you’re in the process, there are certain rules. If you want to reject that process, you certainly can. You didn’t have to do it in the first place.”

Toon also reminded the commissioners that the current contract proposal is “just the framework” and the county can renegotiate with either party.

“That’s 100 percent accurate,” Smith said.

McKernan said they went out to bid, despite its lack of necessity, because they wanted to know their options.

“We wanted to see who was out there and what other vendors might be interested,” he said. “I was surprised we only got two replies.”

The commissioners discussed the possibility of holding off on a vote until between Thanksgiving and Christmas, after the county budget has been taken care of. The vote may even wait until after the holidays.

The current contract with GEO is set until 2019 with a 30-day out, so there is time to spare. But the commissioners don’t want to keep prolonging negotiations.

“I’m willing to do whatever we need to keep moving this thing along,” McKernan said. “If we’re not going to vote, then we need to get back into discussion with the vendors to see who’s going to give us what we want at the price that we need.”