Buy local hits agenda

Salmon Arm: Mayor, council review purchasing policies, invite input.

The issue seems to have more sides to it than a pair of dice.
Council discussed the city’s procurement policy that deals with tenders, quotations and requests for proposals at Monday’s meeting of the city’s development and planning services committee. No decision on changes resulted, but the policy will be posted on the website so the public can view it.
Mayor Nancy Cooper told the Observer the policy will be updated as deemed necessary and appropriate after all comments from council and the public are reviewed.
Coun. Ken Jamieson began the meeting’s discussion, which was put on the agenda following criticisms when the city’s website redesign contract was awarded to a Kansas company. Jamieson said his concern is that local companies have access to the tendering process, so they can respond if they think they can do the job.
He said the smaller contracts – $5,000 to $10,000 – are the ones local companies survive on, and cause the greatest concern. He also suggested the figures be increased, to reflect rising costs and prices.
Carl Bannister, the city’s chief administrative officer, said staff regularly consider local businesses.
“I think it’s fair to say, staff always try to consider local companies. There have been cases over the years where there’s simply nobody to provide the service locally.”
Coun. Chad Eliason noted there’s a balance required between the best value for the taxpayer and the wish to employ local companies.
He said perhaps it would be possible to have a percentage range added that would allow a local company to win a bid.
Bannister said staff don’t recommend a percentage for local businesses, noting that the ‘shop local’ issue comes up routinely.
“What happens is, external contractors will stop bidding if they know we have this policy. In the end they will stop bidding.”
Coun. Denise Reimer asked about the policy for advertising contracts.
Bannister said it is discretionary because of the staff time and resources it would take to advertise every bid.
Coun. Alan Harrison agreed the issue is about communication – that people know about and have the chance to bid.
Reimer asked, in the case of the website, if a company would have had the opportunity to get together and collaborate with other companies.
Bannister said yes, that language exists in many proposals and did in the website RFP.  
Harrison asked about differences between tenders and requests for proposal (RFPs). Bannister confirmed that the city is obligated to take the lowest bid on tenders, but that’s not the case with RFPs.
Harrison said he thinks with many bidding opportunities, local businesses have an advantage because they live here.
For example, with road works, he said, people don’t have to drive here or be housed in hotels, so there’s an economic advantage.
“In the website piece, there was not a particular advantage to local people – they can do website design from anywhere.”
He noted that in the case of the web redesign, a local company was contacted but didn’t put in a proposal, so it wasn’t a communication issue.
Harrison said he agrees with the administrator on not having a percentage variance on bids for local companies, noting that outside bids would stop and costs would go up. Then, if other communities did the same, local companies that work in other communities would lose out.
Coun. Debbie Cannon agreed, noting she has talked to contractors who bid on jobs in and outside of the community and are against such a percentage.
She also noted that a lot of work goes into preparing a bid, work which contractors routinely do but are never guaranteed they’ll get the contract.
She noted that the local company contacted regarding the website didn’t wish to put in the hours of work required to submit a proposal because of the costs.
“I think it’s a sticky situation into how you do it… We’re happy when they get those jobs that keep them working.” 
Jamieson said he doesn’t have a problem having a percentage for local companies – perhaps five or 10 per cent, but only for the small contracts.
Coun. Marg Kentel said people running businesses “have to always be looking ahead and thinking offensively of what is out there. If I was in a position, I’d be thinking ahead about what the city is going to be spending in the upcoming year, talking to staff… when will that be out to bid?”
Reimer said she would like to see every bid put on the website.
Harrison said he’d like to see her idea pursued further, and would be interested to learn how many RFPs and formal tenders the city does in a year.
“That would give me an idea how much work it would be to put on the website,” Harrison said.
Bannister said there are a number of places to post bids of varying sizes. BC Bid is generally for large tenders.
In the case of the website redesign, Cooper said, staff did research on a number of websites and then selected several companies who met the city’s needs to receive an RFP.
Both Jamieson and Reimer emphasized that they are in no way criticizing staff; they would just like the procurement policy examined for potential ways to improve it.