Small business program revived

Just when some thought the final nail had been hammered into the Small Business Office coffin, Dougherty County Commissioners, in a special called meeting Monday, revised, reconsidered and revived the program meant to give small businesses more access to the bidding process for county projects.

After a lengthy debate among commissioners -- some argued that implementing any kind of preference would drive up costs to taxpayers, while others argued that not having a program would increase the gap between successful larger businesses and impoverished smaller businesses -- the board voted 5-2 to reconsider the issue and then 4-3 to pass the proposal that had been all but abandoned by the board last month.

Monday's special called meeting was set to reconsider the plan, which creates a sheltered market for businesses that meet certain requirements to become certified small businesses. Requirements include the geographic location of the business and its income or net worth.

While that meeting allowed commissioners to vote on the measure, they first discussed the small business office Monday during their regular work session.

The program approved Monday includes two small changes from one previously under consideration. The program excludes Valdosta and Lowndes County in what was the 29-county swath of South Georgia where small businesses doing business in Dougherty County could be headquartered.

It also eliminated professional services in the sheltered market, leaving only commodities, officials say.

According to Chairman Jeff Sinyard, 99.4 percent of all the county's 9,000 annual purchase orders would qualify for the program.

Sinyard urged the board to act one way or the other Monday and put the item to rest once and for all.

"This is not going to be a perfect program. There is going to have to be some give and take and good and bad; our goal is to create something fair for all businesses -- those that are getting on their feet, those that are growing and those that have been growing -- to spur job growth," Sinyard said.

Both Commissioners Jack Stone and Gloria Gaines said they thought it best to have some sort of review process in place so that they can track the success or failure of the program as it gets under way.

"The bottom line, at the end of six months we need facts and figures, and no ifs ands or buts," Stone said. "Something to see if this thing is working or not."

During the special called meeting, Commissioner John Hayes said he didn't believe six months would be a true indicator of the program's success or failure and asked that the board consider waiting for a year before re-examining the program.

"I just believe that there is no way to effectively gauge the effectiveness of this program after only six months," Hayes said.

Commissioners Lamar Hudgins and Chuck Lingle retained their positions against the matter, questioning whether Roberts' Rules of Order, the parliamentary procedure adopted by the Commission, allowed for reconsideration of a matter already taken up by the board.

"I have said it before and I still believe it; competition draws prices down and when you get in the way of that, it will drive cost up for the taxpayer," Hudgins said.

After discussion among board members and County Attorney Spencer Lee, the Commission agreed that two votes would be needed to follow protocol. The first vote would be to reconsider adopting the small business program, with the second vote being to either adopt it or reject it.

Gaines offered up both motions, with Commissioner Muarlean Edwards seconding the motion to reconsider -- which passed 5-2 with Lingle and Hudgins against -- and Stone seconding the motion to adopt the plan as revised, which passed 5-2 with Lingle and Hudgins again voting against.

The program will go into effect July 1.