BOC approves purchasing policy

COVINGTON - County commissioners agreed to keep a resident vendor preference provision in the new purchasing policy approved Aug. 20.

Discussion at the meeting focused on whether the provision would deter other vendors from submitting bids. But commissioners ultimately decided a preference for local vendors who meet certain requirements would benefit the local economy.

The provision allows a resident vendor — defined as an individual, partnership, association or corporation that is authorized to transact business within the state, maintains an office in Newton County, has a valid Newton County business license and has paid all taxes duly assessed — that is within 5 percent of a low bid to match the low bid.

Preference to resident vendors may be given on purchases and contracts of up to $100,000, or $20,000 for transportation projects.

Commissioner Nancy Schulz said after hearing comments from citizens about the provision, she wondered if it would discourage vendors “making a good clean bid the first time, especially those from outside the county, because they may have given a good faith bid and may have someone undercut them.”

County Manager John Middleton said the county would have to publicize that it has a resident vendor policy and explain the policy before bids are submitted.

“Could that drive away business? There’s a chance that it could. You don’t want to upset the competitive nature of it, but at the same time, we’ve had pressure on the other side to buy local,” Middleton said.

Commissioner Lanier Sims said that typically local vendors don’t fall within 5 percent of the low bid so, “I don’t think it’s going to hurt the competitive bidding process.”

Commissioner Levie Maddox said he’s heard comments in favor of the buy local approach. “I think this is a very small element that helps to encourage local prosperity,” he said.

Schulz said she was comfortable with the discussion and the policy was unanimously approved.

The policies were last updated in 2007. Middleton said the new policy matches up with better management practices and organizational changes, such as the merging of finance and purchasing departments into administrative services.

Middleton said significant changes in the policy were mostly related to what type of expenditures need to go before the BOC for approval. The previous policy was more driven by the dollar amount, while the new policy provides guidelines based on the type of purchase. Guidelines are provided based on whether items are budgeted or not budgeted, dollar thresholds, whether competitive quotes or bids are required and when items must be approved by the department head, go through the county manager or chairman or must get BOC approval.

The policy sets a threshold of $50,000 and over for when purchases of capital goods and supplies must be approved by the Board of Commissioners. For contracts for service, the threshold is $5,000 and over.

The threshold for Department Head approval was increased from $1,000 to $2,500.

“This change recognizes the responsible purchasing practices that our department heads and elected officials consistently exhibit in managing their budgeted resources,” Middleton said.

For the first time, the travel and purchasing card policies have been included with the purchasing policy rather than as a standalone policy.

“Both staff and the commissioners were very active in the revision process, sharing ideas and concerns, to ensure that the end result provided the appropriate level of control checks without making the process difficult to use,” Middleton said. “As a result, the purchasing policy revision provides an improved and clearly defined purchasing process that enables our BOC, elected officials, and department heads to make good consistent business decisions with the limited financial resources available to the county.”