Commissioners debate giving local bidders preference


Published: Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 9:12 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 9:12 p.m.

County commissioners on Tuesday debated the pros and cons of granting local companies an advantage when bidding on county contracts and projects.

In the midst of the economic downturn, the Builders Association of North Central Florida requested a local preference policy more than a year ago under the premise that it would keep local tax dollars circulating in the local economy.

Commissioner Susan Baird, who had previously spoken in support of establishing such a policy, voiced conflicting feelings Tuesday.

On one hand, Baird said the policy would assist local companies that face an “unlevel playing field” when bidding for contracts and projects in other counties and municipalities that have local preference policies in place.

On the other hand, Baird said the establishment of such a policy would stray from the concept of free enterprise by giving some companies a built-in advantage over others.

If the free enterprise system awarded excellence, Baird questioned if this was “non free enterprise” awarding “non excellence.” If a policy moves forward, she sought one that assisted local firms in the down economy and then sunsets in two years.

One driving force behind the push for local preference is the proliferation of similar policies around the state — including in neighboring counties.

Thirty-nine counties have some form of policy that provides an advantage to companies from within their jurisdiction — including neighboring Marion, Columbia, Putnam and Bradford counties, according to county research. The city of Gainesville also has a policy in place for firms located within the city limits.

Virgina Johns, the president of Hipp Construction, urged the county to show the same support other local governments showed their firms. When local companies win a contract, “all of that money keeps circulating” in the county, Johns said.

“It provides jobs,” she said.

Purchasing director Larry Sapp noted that the National Institute of Governmental Purchasing opposed local vendor preference policies. A resolution from that organization described the policies as an “impediment to cost-effective procurement of goods, services and construction in a free market system.”

In an interview before the meeting, Commissioner Lee Pinkoson said the county would have to strike a balance between assisting local firms and safeguarding taxpayer monies.

In the end Tuesday, commissioners directed staff to do more research.

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