SOUTHINGTON — Democrats and Republicans on the Town Council are divided over a proposal to increase a bidding advantage for local companies trying to secure town work.
The town's current preferred bidding ordinance allows local companies to match the lowest bid received if a Southington company's offer is within five percent. Under the proposal, the threshold would increase to 10 percent, giving local companies a greater chance of matching the lowest bid on contracts between $10,000 and $500,000.
In the case of identical bids, the local company gets the job, according to the ordinance.
Supporters of the change say it will help support local businesses and won’t cost the town anything. Others say it could discourage companies from bidding on town jobs, leading to fewer bids and higher municipal costs.
Dawn Miceli, council chairwoman and a Democrat, started studying the possibility of increasing the percentage two years ago.
“It seemed like we were giving a lot of our muni projects to out of town and out of state companies,” she said.
She’s found towns and cities in Connecticut where local companies can match the lowest bid if they’re as much as 15 percent higher initially.
At a public hearing last month, some small business owners and the Greater Southington Chamber of Commerce supported the change. Brian Goralski, chairman of the Board of Education and a Republican, said he's already concerned about the lack of bidders for snow plowing and asked that the service be exempt from the proposed ordinance.
During Monday’s council meeting, Republican councilor Tom Lombardi said the Institute for Public Procurement was opposed to preferential bidding treatment and urged other councilors to look at the group’s position paper.
“I believe maximum and open competition should be our goal,” Lombardi said.
“I would encourage all of us to do more research,” he said.
Michael Riccio, a Republican councilor, said companies spend time and money creating bids and could be discouraged from doing so if they’re at a disadvantage against local companies who can match their lowest bid.
Republican councilors said they wanted time to read the research before voting on the new ordinance. The council voted eight-to-one in favor of tabling the motion with only Miceli opposed.
Miceli said the institute’s position paper acknowledged that many municipalities have preferred bidding rules and that Southington was already doing much of what the group recommended to make sure bidders were qualified. The paper also confirmed that there was little research into the effects of preferential bidding rules.
She called the research presented during Monday’s meeting a “low blow at the last minute.” She said Republicans had stalled the bidding ordinance for two years.
Miceli suggested that the town pass the ordinance and then evaluate its effects on the number of bidders for town jobs in a few months.
“I’m not sure what the harm is to implement,” she said.
The ordinance will come before the council again in January.