Keep it all here

Published 9:01 pm Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Thanks to everyone that spent $25 with a local merchant last Saturday during our $25 on the 25th project.

Hopefully you found some good bargains, quality merchandise and smiling faces. I can assure you that spending your money locally goes a long way to helping our community prosper.

Back in December, in this very space, I gave my opinion on both the Bainbridge City Council and the Decatur County Board of Commissioner’s bid process. I thought then, and my outlook is even stronger now, that local goods and service providers should be given preference in the bid process for both government groups.

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A local preference written into the procurement policies of the City of Bainbridge and Decatur County simply makes sense.

Numerous studies have been released by economists from wide-ranging groups that indicate the locally spent dollars turn over seven times in the community. Imagine that, $100 spent locally has an economic impact of $700 to our community.

In discussing the idea with Chris Hobby, Bainbridge city manager, and Tom Patton, Decatur County administrator, both indicated that such a policy would be studied and seriously considered.

Nothing has changed with either group.

The issue was on the agenda during the city council’s annual retreat back in March. The discussion lasted about two minutes.

I have personally spoken to most of the members of the city council regarding giving local businesses preference in the bidding process. And I have been given lots of reasons why adoption of such an ordinance wouldn’t work and is a bad idea. During those conversations, I didn’t hear reasons why it’s a good idea and good for the city.

Here’s a real scenario.

The city awarded a $5,620 bid to a company located in Macon for an ice machine. A local vendor, Griffin Sales and Service, bid $5,768 or $148 higher. Is $148 worth sending $5,600 out of the city limits, never to be seen again? Or is $148 worth keeping $5,600 in the city limits and potentially having an impact of $40,000, or seven times the purchase price, in our community? To me, that’s a pretty good reason to pass a local bid preference ordinance.

Does the vendor in Macon pay local property taxes?

Does the vendor in Macon buy gas, groceries or clothing in Bainbridge?

Does the vendor in Macon have employees that live in Bainbridge, pay taxes in Bainbridge, or buy goods and services in Bainbridge? No, no, no, and no.

One of the reasons given for the recent reduction in force involving nine city employees was the decrease in revenue, specifically tax revenue. Well, here’s a perfect opportunity to do something about the declining revenues. Give our local vendors an opportunity to create tax revenue by awarding a larger share of the business locally.

Absent of an ordinance, the city is bound to follow state-mandated bid process rules. However, it would take a couple of smart people about five minutes to draft an ordinance. An ordinance that would not jeopardize the council’s fiduciary duty to the taxpayers, an ordinance that would allow the council to award bids to local vendors that fell within a set percentage or set dollar amount of the low bid. An ordinance that would be good for Bainbridge.

And it would take less time than that for the council to vote on and pass such an ordinance.

Some of the reasons from the council members for not adopting such an ordinance are that costs would rise, bidders would be suppressed, and the capital budget would increase. Our neighbors in Thomasville have a similar policy relative to automobiles purchased via the bid process.

I called and spoke with the purchasing manager in Thomasville and asked if any of the concerns I just listed applied to their situation. No was the answer. Our neighbors to the north in Albany also have a provision that helps award bids to local vendors.

Albany city leaders recently passed Reciprocity Policy relative to their purchasing practices.

Here’s how it works. A company from Valdosta submits a bid and a company from Albany submits a bid. The low bid is from the vendor in Valdosta and the bid from the Albany-based company is slightly higher. If the City of Valdosta has a bid policy that gives local preference, then that policy automatically applies to that particular bid. In essence, this policy would level the playing field.

We’re not breaking new ground; hundreds of towns and cities, large and small, across the nation have adopted such policies. Just do a simple Google search for “local bid preference” and you can see example after example of what is being done in other places. The reason is because it makes sense.

Recently, the Decatur County Commission has gone against their own procurement policies and awarded bids to local companies, despite not having the lowest bid, for that, I applaud the commission.

One instance involved a crime scene van for the sheriff’s department. Riverbend Ford’s bid was $74 more than a dealer in Unadilla. The commission made the right decision and awarded the bid to Riverbend.

I still urge both Decatur County and the City of Bainbridge to study, really study, a local bid preference policy. And after determining the best policy, adopt the policy and let’s help grow our city and county.