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Albany officials say preference ordinance will be monitored

Sunbelt’s Ford Town Albany Fleet Manager Harry Prisant, left, approached Stephen Collier, Albany Central Services Department director, right, about a local preference ordinance after losing close bids to out-of-town vendors. (June 3, 2013)

Sunbelt’s Ford Town Albany Fleet Manager Harry Prisant, left, approached Stephen Collier, Albany Central Services Department director, right, about a local preference ordinance after losing close bids to out-of-town vendors. (June 3, 2013)

ALBANY, Ga. -- Harry Prisant's a high-energy, excitable kind of guy anyway. So the Sunbelt Ford Town of Albany fleet manager's angry reaction when the Albany City Commission voted recently to purchase a vehicle from a dealer in north Georgia's Smyrna, whose bid had come in only $11.96 less than Ford Town's bid, was not unexpected.

But after Prisant cooled down, he and his supervisor, Pete Pines, asked to meet with city of Albany Central Services Director Stephen Collier. That meeting, Collier admits, was key to his recommendation that the city implement a local procurement preference ordinance, a recommendation that was taken by the commission at its business meeting last Tuesday.

"Opposing procurement preferences is something of an unwritten rule for the people in this business," Collier said Friday. "But when I talked with Mr. Pines and Mr. Prisant, they talked passionately about the impact (city purchases) had on their business and on the community.

"That got my attention."

After a spirited debate Tuesday, the commission voted unanimously to adopt a local preference ordinance that will, for the next three years, allow Dougherty County-based vendors and suppliers an opportunity to match an out-of-town vendor or supplier's bid if the local bid is within 2 percent of the lowest responsive bid.

"I think the city has taken a very positive step for this community," Prisant said after the ordinance was approved. "What they've done has been a long time coming, and it doesn't just impact the car industry. This is about everything from ink pens to buildings, everything the city puts out for bid.

"We lost that bid on an F-350 pickup by $11.96; we lost another bid on 16 police cars by $5.65 a vehicle. I know Trans-Power lost a bid that they were within 2 percent of to a company from north Georgia. These are local businesses and local tax dollars."

The ordinance requires local bidders who want to take advantage of the procurement ordinance to have established a physical place of business in the county for at least 90 days, to have at least two full-time employees working at the location, to hold a current occupational tax certificate (business license) and to be current on ad valorem and property taxes.

The new law replaces a city ordinance that allowed local vendors to match non-local bids from vendors located in jurisdictions that had procurement preference ordinances, a so-called reciprocity policy.

"This new ordinance could actually end up hurting some of our local vendors because the reciprocity policy allowed local matches in the amount of the jurisdiction of the lowest vendor, which could have been 3, 4 or even 5 percent," Collier said. "We thought 2 percent was a good starting point, though. That's what the school system uses, and we haven't heard any compaints.

"We thought 2 percent was a good starting point, a good compromise. We'll track it over the next three years to see what kind of impact the ordinance is having."

Ward V City Commissioner Bob Langstaff voted for the new procurement ordinance, but he expressed reservation about the process, noting that it has the potential to scare off bidders.

"My biggest concern is that this ordinance may stifle competition," Langstaff said. "The more bidders there are, the better purchasing power the city will have. We live in a global economy now, and with the way the economy is going, there are vendors willing to look outside their general area to do business.

"I guess the thing I fear could happen is that a low bidder from outside Albany loses out to a local match bid, and the next time that business decides not to even bid. If that starts happening, then, yes, I believe local bidders could start bidding a little higher than they had been. The key is the best use of taxpayers' money."

Collier said his office will closely monitor the impact the local preference ordinance has to determine if it significantly alters the city's buying power.

"The important thing we have to keep in mind is what's best for the community," the Central Services director said. "We have always done everything we can to help local vendors -- when we write specs for certain proposals we often get their input. But the needs of the taxpayers come first."