Reentry services contract: Deeper look is necessary

The Lycoming County Commissioners are in the midst of deliberating the best future for their reentry services, which help county prisoners rejoin the community and help control the county prison population.

It’s not quite like approving a contract for production of cardboard boxes. With that in mind, the commissioners were correct to last week delay a vote on a new contract until they feel confident of the proposals they have in front of them.

The decision is complicated first by the fact that the commissioners received only two proposals, one from their existing contractor for the services and one from a local contractor. It is further complicated by the fact that GEO Group’s proposal costs more than that of Firetree Services, yet the GEO Group has a track record both with the county and throughout the nation. Firetree has no track record.

Firetree Services bid comes in at $649,700 annually, while the GEO bid carries an annual cost of $671,600 based on daily rates. There are nuances to the bids based on handling of more participants. In those cases, the GEO bid again carries a higher cost. But the county’s request for proposal committee, a group that reviews and grades bid submissions, recommended that GEO receive the contract based on a much higher score when the scope of services provided was evaluated. Out of a possible 200 total points, GEO received 175 and Firetree 112.

Commissioner Chairman Jack McKernan admitted surprise that there were only two bidders for the work. Would rebidding the contract bring more proposals and bring more alternatives? If not, what should be the deciding factor in awarding this contract?

In our view, price alone should not determine who oversees the transition of county prisoners back into the community. The services have to be reliable, effective and safe for the community.

The commissioners should not award a contract for this until they are satisfied they are getting that, along with the fairest price they can get for the county’s citizens and taxpayers. A little more deliberation and evaluation appears to be necessary before that determination is made.