Ravalli County’s civil attorney has asked the state to investigate what he fears may be a business scam affecting more than a dozen other Montana cities and counties.
Attorney Jim Mickelson has asked the state Board of Investments to investigate Benchmark GIS, of Missoula, and Miller Management Services, of Missouri. The two companies contracted with Ravalli County to improve the county’s 911 system at a bid of $90,000—tax money funneled to the county from the state.
The county has paid about half that amount, but has received little if any product or service, Mickelson says. Miller Management, he adds, has indicated it is having “financial difficulties” but has said little more than that.
Mickelson reports that Benchmark, which acted as the local agent for Miller Management, and which partnered with Miller on the 911 enhancement project, recently informed the board of county commissioners that Benchmark “grossly underbid the project” and could only complete it for more than three times the original bid.
Several months ago the county commissioners asked the companies for a full accounting of the work done to date, but received no reply.
“We kind of want to know what we got for our $45,000,” Mickelson says.
He’s now asking the state to step in and investigate the two companies because other counties and cities in Montana have had the same experience with Benchmark and Miller.
He believes as many as 13 counties and five cities contracted with both companies for the same 911 improvement project, and, like Ravalli County, have paid some of the bid but got little in return. “Which, to me, seems a little strange,” Mickelson says. “You’d think out of 18 projects one of the projects would be completed.”
He is asking the state Board of Investments to investigate because the tax money is allocated through that office. He also wants the state to hold the two companies accountable for the tax money spent on the individual projects. And he’s asked that the matter be referred to the attorney general for investigation. If individual local governments are forced to take action against the two companies to enforce the contracts, he says, “it will waste more tax dollars and potentially place them in adversarial positions against each other to collect damages.”
At this point, Mickelson says there may be no remedy. The state may have spent tax dollars on 911 enhancement projects that may never be completed by the original bidders. And any new companies that express interest in the projects may have to begin at square one.
“I’m not real hopeful there’s going to be a resolution to this,” he says.