A local business owner came before the Thomaston City Council at their October 1 meeting, asking if the city could look more favorably at local contractors.
Matt Salter, who owns Treeman Tree Service in Thomaston, questioned if, with all the talk about keeping money local, the city could give local vendor privilege to a local company bidding on a job that comes with a certain percentage of the low bid.
Some counties in the state, such as Henry County, have in their codes that if a local vendor comes within five percent of a low bid, that the local vendor will be given the opportunity to match the low bid and, if they match it, the award will go to the local vendor. The local vendor must also meet certain qualifications in order to be considered.
City Manager Patrick Comiskey stated that the city always considers local businesses when considering purchases, but that the city would probably have to do an ordinance before local vendor privilege could be done.
Salter also questioned the city’s requirement for companies to meet certain qualifications before they can even bid on a city project.
“With me, I’m a small company and I like to bid on jobs when I can,” Salter said. “The city is real tight about the qualifications they want when you turn in a bid. Would you consider a contractor being able to turn in a bid, and if they get the bid, then make sure they qualify in order to get the job? If they don’t qualify, then award the job to the next lowest bidder. The way it is now, you have to qualify with all of your requirements met before you’re able to turn in the bid. That makes it very time consuming for a small business owner.”
City Attorney Joel Bentley responded that the city puts its qualifications up front to keep the bidding on a timely basis.
“The reason the requirements are up front is that we solicit bids publically,” Bentley said. “It is impossible to look at the relative merits of bids if, for example, one bidder provides a performance bond and the other doesn’t, and one provides worker’s compensation and the other does not. Then if the bidders don’t meet the qualifications, you have to bid the job twice. Many of our jobs are time-sensitive and we can’t bid the job in the hopes someone will qualify. That’s why we require all of the requirements to be met up front. I understand what you’re saying, Mr. Salter, in theory, but if we did not have the pre-qualification provision, many, if not most, of the bidders would submit bid packages that weren’t complete, and then it might be a matter of awarding it to a second or third lowest bidder or re-bidding the project. Certainly, with performance bonds and other insurance requirements, it is an expensive process to be able to bid, and obviously you would like to be able to purchase whatever you needed after the fact, but that is not how our bid process works, and it is a standard process in this community, as well as others.”
Bentley also noted that local vendor privilege can get complicated.
“As for the local bids, that may be something that has to be addressed in an ordinance, and also from a competitive standpoint; whether the city wants to say we’re going to do this. It is a complicated area of the law, given that to a certain extent, contracts will be governed by state law above a certain amount of money, and favoritism for local businesses above a certain magnitude may cause some legal issues with other issues. But it is something that could be addressed.”
Mayor Hays Arnold sympathized with Salter, having been a small contractor himself for many years.
“I understand where you’re coming from,” Arnold said. “I had to go through that process. Unfortunately, the ideal situation would have been that every subcontractor I utilized would have been insured. But they weren’t, and I could not allow people on the jobsite with jobs that I bid that required Workers Compensation insurance and general liability insurance of certain amounts, and bonding in some cases. I could not bid the job nor could I get the job if I did not meet those criteria. So I understand exactly where you’re coming from.”