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Minot City Council reviews proposal for ‘buy local’

City reviews proposal for ‘buy local’

Jill Schramm/MDN Minot Area Chamber of Commerce President John MacMartin addresses the Minot City Council Monday in presenting a report of the Buy Local Task Force with City Manager Tom Barry.

A policy that would make it easier for local businesses to sell to the city got a first look by the Minot City Council Monday.

Minot Area Chamber of Commerce President John MacMartin and Minot City Manager Tom Barry presented a proposal developed by the eight-member task force on which they served. The policy addresses city purchases of goods but not procurement of services from contractors.

“Our goals were to ensure clarity, consistency and efficiency of the overall procurement process that the city was going to to utilize. We wanted to minimize the number of types of procurement situations so that we didn’t have too much room for error and that it was easy to administer, and then we wanted to establish a reasonable ‘buy local’ preference policy,” Barry said.

He explained that federal procurement laws don’t allow for local preference considerations.

“That’s a huge problem because a lot, and actually most of our money that we have in our budget, comes from the federal government,” Barry said. State procurement laws, although they allow for local preference considerations, also are difficult to work with, he said.

“So you can see this wasn’t an easy task. But essentially, we’ve come up with what we think is a pretty good solution. We got away from this idea of a local preference, and instead move towards a ‘buy local’ policy,” he said.

A local vendor in the policy is defined as a business within about a 65-mile radius of Minot. The policy spells out those zip codes that would be included.

The proposed guidelines state that when purchasing agents for the city obtain informal oral or formal written quotes, they make reasonable efforts to obtain at least one quote from a local vendor. When a sealed bid process is required, city staff shall provide notification to local vendors registered as bidders on the city website.

“We certainly do want to see local businesses participate in this process, but we are still stewards of the taxpayers money. Local businesses that are not able to give us a low bid or whatever it is that we find acceptable, we are not required to purchase locally,” council member Lisa Olson said. “We want it to be a participation. We want it to be a group effort. But in the end, we’ll be making those decisions on what is most appropriate for the city.”

“I think in some cases the lowest price they’re going to find is in town. It’s going to be more convenient certainly,” MacMartin said. “What we’re hoping to do with this policy is create an atmosphere where the purchasing agents within the city, within each of the departments, can find somebody locally to get a quote from.”

The task force recommendation also raises the purchasing thresholds that require bidding rather than quotes on budgeted items. There are different thresholds depending on who signs off on the purchase, whether a department head or other staff position.

Currently, documentation and price quotes are required for purchases over $1,000 and sealed bids with council approval are required over $15,000. The proposed policy requires no documentation up to $5,000 with approval of the department head. City manager or finance director approval also would be needed for purchases from $5,000 to $50,000, and sealed bids with council approval would be needed for purchases over $50,000.

Council member Stephan Podrygula raised a concern about potential conflict of interest with quotes versus sealed bids if price thresholds are raised.

“I think that opens up the possibility of, again, cronyism, perhaps even corruption,” he said. “That pushes us more in the direction of making us more vulnerable, making purchasing officers and agents more vulnerable. So, I really would want to see an explicit conflict-of-interest prohibition.”

Barry said some peace of mind comes from the fact that employees will be trained on the policy and purchases will be documented and reviewable.

The council will be examining the policy and taking action at a future council meeting.

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