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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Bidding edge to local businesses eyed through code change

As published in the Record Journal, Tuesday February 21, 2012

By Russell Blair
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2225

WALLINGFORD — Changes have been proposed to the town’s purchasing code to favor local businesses, but one councilor wants to see more done.

New language in the code raises the bid threshold from $4,000 to $7,500 and requires the purchasing department to attempt to obtain quotes for purchases below the threshold from local vendors.

Open-market purchases don’t require advertisement and aren’t handled in the same way as the competitive bidding process. These purchases “shall, whenever possible, be based on at least three competitive quotes and shall be awarded to the lowest responsive and responsible quoter,” reads the proposed code change.

According to the new language, “whenever possible, reasonable efforts shall be made to obtain such quotes from local vendors.”

Town Councilor Craig Fishbein, a Republican, said that he had requested the changes during a meeting of the Ordinance Committee to help drive town work to local businesses. “The $4,000 bar is too low,” Fishbein said. “Right now, a $5,000 expenditure has to go out to public bid. It could be awarded to another town.”

Fishbein said that the new language “almost mandates they have to attempt to make the purchase from local businesses.”

“It’s steering the business to Wallingford,” he said.

But Fishbein said he wants to see more done to help local businesses, and has proposed further language that will award a contract to a local company that comes within 5 percent of the lowest bidder. That proposal is still before the ordinance committee.

Fishbein said that surrounding municipalities — including Meriden, North Haven and Durham — have local bidding preferences, and the result is that Wallingford companies are losing out on contracts there.

“I’m generally against government picking winners and losers, but it’s only fair we help those companies,” Fishbein said.

Republican Councilor John LeTourneau disagreed, and said that preferring local businesses could dissuade companies in other towns from bidding at all.

“I don’t believe it can work,” he said. “Why would you bid if you already have a strike against you?”

LeTourneau said that it isn’t fair that even if a company were to be the low bidder, because they’re out of town, “they don’t have a chance.”

“If I was out of town, I wouldn’t bid,” he said.

John Sullivan, a Democratic councilor, said he wasn’t in favor of pushing the proposal as far as Fishbein wanted.

“I see both sides, but it needs to be fair,” he said. “Local bidders need to put the best price on any bid. It should be one bid, one time and fair to everybody.”

A public hearing on the proposed changes, not including the 5 percent preference, is scheduled for 7 p.m. Feb. 28, during the council’s next meeting.