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Council weighs contractors’ needs vs. taxpayer concerns

October 14, 2010

Bishop’s City Council and staff got an ear full from area contractors on Monday as the city’s leaders try to hash out a way to give local businesses an upperhand when it comes to bidding on municipal jobs.
The main point of contention at the meeting, for the council and the city attorney, is how much preference can be given within legal boundaries. The contractors’ concern was that the preference was not enough to make an impact.
At its regular Monday meeting, the council had the first reading of Chapter 3.26 to the Bishop Municipal Code that would give local, small businesses a 5 percent preference when bidding on city jobs, mainly those in the Public Works sector.
The ordinance states that “if the lowest responsive bid is not submitted by a local business or a small business, the lowest responsive bid submitted by a local business (or a small business) that is within 5 percent of the lowest responsive bid shall be considered the low bid and that business shall be awarded the contract.” It is also stated that the preference shall not exceed $10,000 in one award.
Local preferences cannot be made on federal, state or emergency management contracts, by law.
Dan Stone spoke as cofounder of the Owens Valley Vendors and Contractors Association, the group pushing both the county and the city to adopt such preference acts. The county recently adopted a preference act and now the OVCVA is working with the city. In Chapter 3.26, and in data made available to the council by Stone, are statistics and evidence to support the idea that when local contractors are chosen for jobs, the money stays local, contributing to the entire community.
Stone started by saying, “Thanks for penning what will be a big step.” However, he said the OVCVA is asking for some modifications to Chapter 3.26.
One was to strike the words “with a local distribution hub” when referring to the definition of a local business, and the next was to ask for a step up to a 10 percent preference.
Many other contractors told the council that they appreciated what it was trying to do, but that 5 percent was not enough to make a difference.
This is when the meeting heated up.
City Attorney Peter Tracy, the man who penned the chapter to the ordinance, said he was “not comfortable” with going beyond 5 percent. He said there is the possibility of litigation on a federal level as local preference acts come close to violating the Equal Protection Clause, part of the 14th Amendment in the U.S. Constitution.
“I support you, but I’ve gone as far as I can and still do my job – that of protecting the citizens,” Tracy told the contractors.
Russ Aldridge of Aldridge Electric told the council that while local contractors have fought hard for what they have in the ordinance, they would like to see more. “All we’re asking for is to hire local people and help put money back into the community,” he said.
Dale Comontofski, owner of Preferred Septic and Disposal, said plainly that 5 percent doesn’t do much and that 10 or even 8 percent would be more viable.
Councilmember Bruce Dishion said that the 5 percent preference comes directly out of taxpayer pockets. He said he didn’t think every citizen wants to support the preference but would rather have their tax dollars spent on the lowest possible bidder.
Stone said that it is clear that local preference means local jobs and more income back into the community.
The council discussed the options with David Stottlemyre and Laura Smith stating they would like to see a higher percentage, while Jeff Griffiths, Susan Cullen and Dishion said they would take the advice of Tracy and not go any higher than 5 percent. The contractors countered by saying no business would be willing to sue over a $10,000 limit.
Tracy said he didn’t want to write the chapter to begin with and would stand firm at 5 percent.
Ultimately the council voted 4-1 in favor of the chapter to the ordinance, with Stottlemyre the no vote. The council also reiterated that this was the first of two reading of the chapter and that further changes could be made. There was no word on when the council would revisit the chapter.

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