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Monday, January 28, 2013

Editorial - Local bidders

As published in the Record Journal Monday January 28, 2013

If worded carefully, an ordinance allowing for local bidder preference in awarding municipal contracts would have benefited Wallingford. Town councilors rejected this concept on Jan. 22, after discussing it in previous meetings. The proposed guideline would grant local companies an advantage in seeking contracts put out to bid by Wallingford. If a business based in the municipality did not offer the lowest price, but came within a certain percentage of this bottom figure, the business could match the low bid and win the contract.

There are downsides. Aware of a local-preference clause, out-of-town companies might not make bids. This could mean fewer businesses competing for a contract and, thus, potentially higher costs paid by Wallingford for work.

Another problem, alertly brought up by Mayor William Dickinson, would be how to conclude which companies are and are not locally based. But, as wisely suggested by Councilman Jason Zandri, checking business filings with the state could definitively determine where a company is technically located.

Moreover, it’s unclear whether bids would actually dwindle after establishment of a local-preference ordinance. In Connecticut, 29 percent of municipalities have enacted a similar law, including Meriden and North Haven. And, as argued by Councilman Craig Fishbein, because of these existing ordinances, Wallingford companies could be losing out on contracts in nearby towns and cities, and, therefore, could use additional help in their own zip code.

As presented in our news account of Dec. 22, local preference protocols in Meriden and North Haven are reasonably worded. In Meriden, to enact the program, a city-based company’s bid cannot be more than 10 percent higher than the bottom bid. In North Haven, a local business’ bid has to be within 10 percent of the lowest on items under $1 million, 5 percent of purchases between $1 million and $5 million, and 3 percent on anything more than $5 million.

Which is to say that this can be done, if implemented correctly. Based on Meriden and North Haven laws, the key is to retain a fair, fighting chance for bidders from outside municipal borders. Those two civic governments give local businesses only a marginal advantage, as not to foster favoritism or impinge greatly upon free market economics. Should Wallingford leaders seek a boost for in-town companies — and why wouldn’t they? — they could do so with similarly worded regulations.

This is a concept councilors should reconsider. By granting local businesses a second chance to match low bids under still competitive circumstances, councilors could direct taxpayer money toward town based companies, allowing Wallingford to support better its own economy.

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