Ward County feels the lure of Amazon

Jill Schramm/MDN County Commissioner John Fjeldahl, right, visits with Travis Schmit, left, and Dana Larsen with the highway department Tuesday.

Should Ward County have an Amazon account?

Ward County commissioners heard from a few department heads Tuesday as they considered how far to go in buying online versus purchasing locally.

Highway engineer Dana Larsen suggested the county look at the different account options on Amazon, which could be beneficial in finding items not available locally or in saving taxpayer money. Larsen received approval to set up a basic, three-user account for now from commissioners who saw both pros and cons of online shopping.

“Does Amazon own any property here that they pay real estate taxes on?” Commissioner Alan Walter asked. “Do they have any employees that live here that pay real estate taxes? We can’t find these deals without going through this?”

Larsen said he has used Amazon through a private account in the past to buy items for his department not available locally. An Amazon account would not replace the seeking of local price quotes but would provide another comparison, he said.

“This is just trying to provide another source. For us, a lot of things that are available in town, we are going to purchase them in town,” Larsen said. When it is necessary to go online, there’s value in having an Amazon account to choose from, he said.

“I would rather get the best bang for the buck,” Larsen said.

Saving tax dollars also was part of the commission’s discussion.

“If you can get it for 50% less, honestly, I think you should get it for 50% less,” Commissioner John Pietsch said.

Larsen cited the case of buying multiple computer server cables and finding prices varying from $10 each at a local office store, $5 at a online technology website and $3 at Amazon. Auditor Devra Smestad cited the case of a piece of equipment available for $500 locally and $149 online.

“This is a savings for the taxpayers as well. Not to take out our local vendors -because we will always look at those – but when we are saving $200 to $300 per item, that’s huge,” she said.

It also was noted that buying from outside vendors isn’t new. Smestad said until a few years ago, the county paid a membership with an outside vendor to order large quantities of office supplies at discounted prices.

Technology director Jason Blowers said warranties and guarantees can be a factor in where to purchase. The county typically purchases personal computers through a state contract with a vendor that offers a three-year warranty, while the county’s printer toner comes from another outside vendor who can provide a guarantee on after-market toner, saving the county $10,000 already this year.

The City of Minot also has struggled with whether to include a local preference option in its procurements and bid awards. Council members reviewed the idea at a July retreat and expect to address it at a future council meeting.

John MacMartin, president of the Minot Area Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber and city staff plan to meet to discuss his organization’s thoughts on the buy local preference. The chamber has proposed a local preference when local dollars are paying for a project, with more leeway when federal or state dollars are funding a project.

“We need to encourage purchasing locally as much as possible,” MacMartin said. He noted local companies pay taxes, donate locally and hire people who spend money in town.

“So there’s arguments for keeping those dollars churning in the local economy,” he said.

The county commission voted 5-0 to establish a basic Amazon account with the understanding it will remain basic over the next year.

“I envision this as a very limited resource. But, they have the option available,” Commissioner Jim Rostad said.

In other business, the commission:

® approved stockpiling soil for next year’s levee work in Tierrecita Vallejo after receiving no public opposition. Commissioner John Fjeldahl cast the only vote against the proposal because of the lack of a deadline for eliminating the stockpile. The stockpile is estimated to be about 25 feet high, with a footprint of about 100 feet.

® approved purchase of new in-car computers for the Sheriff’s Department for about $81,000. Existing computers won’t be able to support a required operating system upgrade in 2020.

® tabled for more information a decision on whether to bill other government entities for costs associated with sending out estimated property tax information to taxpayers. Last year, the county bore the full cost of the mailings, which included information from all taxing entities. If other entities are billed for their proportionate shares, individual mailing costs could range from about $11 to $1,100.

® agreed to study whether to create a separate planning department, which currently is a division of the highway/engineering department.


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