“Prevailing Wage Act” Gets Easier (PA 100-1177)

Do you remember the Illinois legislature doing anything recently to simplify a law and make your job easier? Well, it happened in the last session of the Illinois General Assembly. Effective June 1, 2019, it became easier for units of local government – including fire protection districts – to comply with the “Prevailing Wage Act”.

As a refresher, remember that this “Prevailing Wage Act” doesn’t have anything to do with wages paid to firefighters and paramedics. Rather, it relates to when your fire district hires outside contractors, like “laborers, mechanics and other workers” to do things like build or repair a fire house, perform landscaping work, and maintain or repair certain equipment at the fire house.

In the past, the fire district was required annually during June to “… ascertain the prevailing rate of hourly wages [in the fire district] for each craft or type of worker or mechanic …” who might perform work for the district. The district was then required, “… no later than July 15 of each year, [to file] a certified copy … [of the determination] in the office of the Illinois Department of Labor…”.

Well, those requirements described above are now history. Instead of this prior procedure, the Illinois Department of Labor will determine the wage rates that apply in each county, and this rate will be binding on the fire protection districts located in that county. No need for the fire district to do this task.

While this legislative action simplifies the process, it doesn’t eliminate the other requirements of the “Prevailing Wage Act”, which will generally still apply.

What’s New in Bidding

One of the most challenging tasks facing a fire district trustee is purchasing new fire apparatus. One reason this task is challenging is the requirement that an Illinois fire protection district must comply with the competitive bidding requirements set out at 70 ILCS 705/11k for any purchase expending $20,000.00 or more, which amount obviously includes the purchase of new fire apparatus.

This bidding requirement for fire protection districts didn’t exist until January 1, 2015. While other units of local government in Illinois have long been required to purchase through a competitive bidding process, it wasn’t until January, 2015, that the Illinois legislature imposed this binding legal requirement on fire protection districts.

Many fire district trustees serve multiple terms on the Board of Trustees, sometimes serving for twenty, thirty, forty years, or more. As a result, many trustees remember and are accustomed to the “old” way of doing things – like purchasing a fire truck — and old habits die hard. In addition, some trustees may not be aware of the “bidding” requirement created by Public Act 98-799.

To further complicate the process, the statute mandating competitive bidding was twice amended during 2019. For all of these reasons, it’s good for trustees to periodically review what is required if a fire protection district is going to spend $20,000.00 or more.

With certain listed exceptions, 70 ILCS 705/11k of the Illinois Fire Protection District Act requires that “… all contracts for supplies, materials, or work involving an expenditure in excess of $20,000.00 shall be let to the lowest responsible bidder after advertising as required …”.

This language does not mean however, that in all cases the district must accept the lowest bid that is submitted to it. The statute includes language stating that the fire district Board of Trustees “… is not required to accept a bid that does not meet the district’s established specifications, terms of delivery, quality, and serviceability requirements …”.

The statute as originally written also exempts from the competitive bidding requirement contracts “… which, by their nature, are not adapted to award by competitive bidding …”, and the statute includes ten examples of these types of contracts.

On July 26, 2019, an additional change in the statute was made by PA 101-139, and additional exceptions to the bidding requirement were created. The statute now includes language that reads, in part:

“In addition to contracts entered into under the Governmental Joint Purchasing Act, a board of trustees may enter into contracts for supplies, materials, or work involving an expenditure in excess of $20,000 through participation in a joint governmental or nongovernmental purchasing program that requires as part of its selection procedure a competitive solicitation and procurement process …”.

Unfortunately, the legislature did not further describe exactly which purchasing programs meet the requirements set out in the newly amended statute, so this appears to be an additional area of possible confusion for both fire protection districts and apparatus vendors.

The above information is not a complete listing of all of the steps that a fire district is required to take to comply with the “competitive bidding” requirements of the Illinois Fire Protection District Act at 70 ILCS 705/11k. This article, and the additional explanations on this web site, are intended only to alert trustees about the general requirements of Illinois law. Discussion of these topics with the fire district’s attorney is strongly encouraged, in the event that any questions about this information exist.