County may put locals first in purchasing decision

March 22, 2010
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Kent County commissioners may soon get an opportunity to amend the county’s purchasing policy. A resolution submitted by County Commissioner Brandon Dillon would alter the policy to give vendors in the county another chance, and his proposal is making its way through the process.

“What I am hoping to accomplish is amending our purchasing policy to give local vendors a second chance to match a low bid when their bid comes within 5 percent (of the lowest bid),” said Dillon in an e-mail to the Business Journal last week.

Dillon brought the idea up at a recent commission meeting after the county’s Finance Committee agreed to buy two trucks from Red Holman Buick GMC in Westland, which is between Ann Arbor and Detroit. Holman Buick GMC was the lowest bidder for a 2010 GMC Sierra three-quarter-ton truck at $24,688 and for a 2010 GMC Canyon half-ton truck at $18,288.

But Dillon noted that the bid for the half-ton truck was only $85 lower than a bid submitted by Fox Ford, and the bid for the three-quarter-ton truck was just $141 lower than one presented by Tony Betten Ford.

“In the case of the two trucks we bid out to Red Holman, we sent nearly $43,000 in Kent County tax dollars to Wayne County to save a total of $226 on the two bids,” said Dillon.

Under Dillon’s proposed amendment to the purchasing policy, Fox Ford and Betten Ford would have been given an opportunity to match the bids from Holman Buick GMC. Had both dealers been able to do that, they likely would have made the sales, and the county would have paid Fox and Betten the same amount it paid Holman.

“A bid policy like the one I proposed does not inflate the cost of commodities and, despite any suggestions to the contrary, there has been no evidence offered that somehow this could stop people from outside the county from bidding,” said Dillon.

“In fact, in places like Ingham County where the policy has been in place for nearly five years, nothing like that has happened.”

Under Dillon’s proposal, the only time a local vendor who came within 5 percent of a winning bid would not be given a second chance to match that bid would be when another local vendor submitted the winning bid. And if a local vendor is given an opportunity to match a bid but decides not to, then the bid will be awarded without regard to a vendor’s location.

Also, if a local contractor makes a construction bid but doesn’t include local subcontractors for at least half the work, then that local contractor will lose its local vendor status for a bid but would still be able to bid on a project.

Dillon defined “local vendor” as one located within Kent County.

The home base of vendors was brought up again last week at the county’s Finance Committee meeting when Youngstrom Contracting was the lowest bidder and won the right to stabilize the shoreline at Myer Lake Park. Youngstrom’s bid was $16,450 — $174 lower than the bid from Quantum Construction.

Commissioner Carol Hennessy asked County Purchasing Supervisor Cal Brinks where Youngstrom was located and he said Ionia, which is outside Kent County. Brinks noted that none of the three lowest bidders were in the county. Commissioner James Vaughn then asked Brinks to include the home base of every vendor on the bid list that comes before the committee.

“It would be helpful and would save us some time,” said Commissioner Jim Talen.

But Commissioner Art Tanis pointed out that even though companies like Youngstrom are outside the county line, local people are still being put to work through the county’s current purchasing policy. And Commissioner Roger Morgan said the existing bid policy saves the county money.

Morgan noted that the county’s estimated cost to make improvements to the entrance at John Ball Zoo was $145,000. Apex Contractors, however, submitted a winning bid of $111,900. “That’s saving the county money. That’s a great thing,” said Morgan.

Apex Contractors is located in Dorr Township in Allegan County. But a firm located in Grand Rapids, Affordable Excavating, had the second lowest bid and it was within the 5 percent margin in Dillon’s proposal. So if the policy had been amended to include his resolution, Affordable Excavating would have been given a chance to match the bid made by Apex.

Dillon said his resolution has been referred to the Finance Committee. He added that Committee Chairman Dean Agee is likely to appoint a subcommittee or work group to look into it.

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