Councilors debate preferred bidding: understanding the council discussion



At their Dec. 11 meeting, the Town Council tabled changes to the preferred bidder ordinance, which would change the procedure for bidding certain municipal projects. The item will return to the agenda for the Jan. 8 meeting.

The current ordinance states that, for a municipal project that costs between $10,000 and $500,000, any town-based bidder which has submitted a bid of up to 5 percent higher than an out-of-town bidder would receive a courtesy call offering them the opportunity to lower their price and thus get the job. The new language of the ordinance would increase the percentage that a local business can be called for from 5 to 10 percent.

In September, the Ordinance Committee voted to bring the proposed change to the council, but the council discussion began during the approval of snow bids on Nov. 13 when John Barry (D) questioned if the ordinance applied to the bottom bids were so close. The local company’s bid was 50 cents higher than an out-of-town company.

Former Town Manager Garry Brumback advised the council against applying the ordinance because snow removal companies have extenuating circumstances for bid pricing, for example different machinery or sizes of plows.

Then-deputy Town Manager Mark Sciota offered to include as part of the original motion that he and the Town Engineer would meet the local bidders and “compare apples to apples,” by reviewing their bids and equipment.

Chris Palmieri (D) asked for discussion before the bid was approved. Mike Riccio (R) initially made the motion to approve the bid but recanted his support when the preferred bidding ordinance entered the debate. Victoria Triano (R) amended the motion, and Dawn Miceli (D) seconded it.

The motion passed, 8-1, with Riccio casting the dissenting vote, saying that the town shouldn’t limit fair trade.

“What happens over time is the price starts to float up and then we are not doing a service to our taxpayers,” Riccio said. “We are supposed to protect their money first, not Southington businesses.”

The debate continued at the Nov. 27 public hearing about the proposed ordinance change. Residents spoke out on both sides, and no action was scheduled until the Dec. 11 council meeting when action was deferred.

On Dec. 11, Miceli led the support for the changes, saying the town should seek to use Southington businesses whenever possible. She referenced a letter from the chamber of commerce which supports the proposed change.

Miceli said that the change to 10 percent would not cost taxpayers anything. Rather, the town would “simply offer the Southington bidder to bid the same amount as an out-of-towner.”

According to Miceli, many similar municipalities have preferred bidding ordinances of 10 or 15 percent, for example Wethersfield, Middletown and Meriden. She reported that most municipalities she spoke to did not experience a drop off or decrease in numbers of bidders when they increased their percentage.

“The language modification to our current preferred bidding ordinance will simply serve as another economic development tool in our toolbox as well as generate goodwill in our own business community,” Miceli said. She added that a trickle-down economic factor could transpire. “Their employees will be in town to spend money before, during and after the work day.”

Tom Lombardi (R) led the opposition. His research compiled articles and studies that were in disfavor of a 10 percent preferred bidder ordinance. In addition, he also reached out to surrounding municipalities to see what percentages they use.

One source came from a 2015 conference held in Florida presented by Gregory Spearman, a certified public purchasing officer and a Florida certified contracts manager. It argued that a local preference program would “discourage competition and eventually reduce the pool of competing bidders.”

Lombardi also argued that it would encourage exclusions and ordinances across neighboring communities which could hurt local companies who seek work in those towns.

For now, councilors have time to review the research. The item will return to the council come Jan. 8 for a vote to approve the proposed changes to the ordinance.

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