By state law, when bids come in for public projects, the city has to award a contract to the “lowest responsible bidder.”

Now, for projects with contracts higher than $1 million, the city has a definition for a responsible bidder.

The Council approved its responsible bidder ordinance at its Jan. 28 meeting, with 16 points of criteria potential contractors must meet to be considered, including being authorized to work in Wisconsin, having proper classifications and compensation for works and maintaining a safety program.

Ald. Dan Bahr said the ordinance will add “integrity” to the city’s public works projects.

Several communities around the state have responsible bidder ordinances, he said, including the City of Sun Prairie, which developed a strict policy after a July 2018 gas line rupture caused by an under-qualified company resulted in an explosion and death of a firefighter.

“It’s common sense,” he said. “If we’re going to spend millions and millions of dollars on projects in the city … it makes sense that there’s a certain criteria or level of training that the state recognizes that we ought to recognize.”

Andrew Disch, the political director for the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters, said the ordinance protects taxpayers by ensuring projects are done correctly the first time by a credible company.

Under the ordinance, contracts cannot be awarded to companies barred from working with any government at the local, state or federal level or that have been in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s severe violator enforcement program within the two previous years.

The ordinance was passed with two changes – one requiring an apprenticeship provision for contractors and another changing the threshold of the law’s applicability to projects $1 million or more, an increase from the proposed project cost of $250,000.

While the ordinance creates standards for contractors, Disch said, responsible companies in compliance support responsible bidder laws.

“While low cost is the first priority, no doubt about it, value is also essential,” he testified in support of the ordinance. “You get what you pay for, everyone knows that.”

Email reporter Kimberly Wethal at and follow her on Twitter @kimberly_wethal.​