Council Debates Value of Local Purchasing

The Washington city council could soon have an easier time deciding on when to take a more expensive local bid.

Needing to replace an old 2002 Chevrolet S-10 truck, the city received two bids—one locally and one from Columbia.

The recommendation to the council was to approve the cheaper bid from Joe Machens Capital City Ford Lincoln, which has the current contract for supplying vehicles to state agencies, instead of choosing the bid from Chris Auffenberg Ford. The council decided to go with the cheaper bid, but not without some debate.

Mark Hidritch, Ward 2, encouraged the council to stay locally and go with Auffenberg’s bid. He said despite the higher cost, it was worth it to support local businesses. Hidritch said the council has, in the past, paid a little bit more to stay in town  . In November the council agreed to purchase a new car for the city engineer at a higher cost because of the bidder’s local ties.

The difference this time was the two bids were much further apart. When the council agreed to go higher in November, the high local bid was only $500 more. This time the gap was more than 8 percent higher—the state bid checked in at $18,345 while the local bid was $19,941.

Steve Sullentrup, Ward 1, said the more than $1,596 difference was reaching too high. Others agreed.

Jim Briggs, city administrator, said the council can’t make a habit of randomly selecting local bids. City Attorney Mark Piontek agreed and said most cities he’s familiar with use a percentage system—usually in the 2 to 3 percent range.

“If you’re going to do this, you need to come up with a written, established policy,” he said.

Piontek said a benefit of putting the plan in writing is it keeps the bidding process competitive. He said if the city just unilaterally, regardless of cost, goes local it runs the risk of losing out-of-town bidders.

“They just won’t bid anymore because they know they’re not going to get it,” he said.

Jeff Patke, Ward 3, said if the council was going to go with a percentage system, it needs to figure out the value of staying local.

“Can you put a benefit on local?” he said. “Is it 5 percent? Ten percent?”

Patke suggested the council give the bid locally this time and then establish a percentage plan later. Sandy Lucy, mayor, disagreed. She said the council should just vote on the Machens bid first and then, at a later date, establish a local preference percentage. That way, the council could decide if it wanted to spend more on this case but, in the future, they would have firmer guidelines on how to proceed.

“We’re talking a much higher percentage,” Lucy said. “We can’t pick and choose. We just can’t do that. We’re stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars here.”

The council voted 6-2 to approve the purchase of the truck from Machens. Patke and Hidritch were the lone no votes.