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Posted on October 22, 2019 at 4:09 PM by Bryan Obenchain
Two simple words that can create a laundry list of questions and discussion.
For the record, I fully support the effort to buy local, whenever reasonably possible, both in my personal life and in fulfilling my responsibilities as Mayor of Minot and a member of the Minot City Council. We all know supporting local companies has a positive impact on our community. It helps our friends, neighbors, and family members who own and operate local businesses. It helps the community by keeping residents employed by these businesses. And it helps the city because these local businesses pay sales taxes and property taxes, and help make our community a better place to live.
At the City of Minot, as much as we want to support local businesses, it isn’t always easy to accomplish, and sometimes, it simply isn’t possible.
Some funding sources do not allow for a buy local preference, and projects or purchases using those funds must adhere to specific guidelines. Not following those guidelines would subsequently cost taxpayers significantly more for those projects or purchases by eliminating those other funding sources entirely.
A well-intentioned buy local preference can, in some cases, eliminate competition and competitive pricing, as many communities around the country have experienced. If prospective outside bidders are continually outbid because of a buy local preference, they may stop submitting bids, leaving local taxpayers a single, unchallenged option that could cause prices to escalate and raise concerns about quality. For instance, some local companies may not have the necessary expertise or workforce to complete a large construction project within the required timeline, despite being the low bidder.
In the end, government simply does not have the same luxury as private businesses, as taxpayers demand and expect elected officials and City administrators to always be the best stewards of tax dollars. If “local preference” supersedes “lowest responsible bidder,” it very well could impact property taxes and quality of work. If “responsible” is removed, it would also remove the ability for elected officials to hold bidders to a necessary standard of quality.
The issue does not have an easy answer. All factors have to be considered if such a “local preference” is proposed, and what impact it would have on local taxpayers. Perhaps a reasonable “local preference” can be crafted with exclusions for outside funding sources that retains those stipulations while maintaining the “responsible” language to guarantee quality products and reliable work.
Members of the City Council have wrangled with this question for years, and the debate continues. Sure, all things being equal, we prefer to do business with local companies all the time. But things are not always equal, as evidenced by the requirements in using certain funds.
If you believe we should always purchase from a local vendor, how far does that extend? Should we purchase from a local vendor even if the price is higher? If your answer is yes, how much more would you be willing to spend to buy local? Two percent? Five percent? Ten percent? In Minot, I bet that answer would differ greatly depending on who you asked.
Staff members are working with Minot Area Chamber of Commerce members to discuss and debate these issues with the help of City Council Vice President Lisa Olson. The group, called the Buy Local Task Force, hopes to develop a reasonable and fair approach that doesn’t compromise important funding sources but advances the tenets of buying local. The task force’s work will conclude in a recommendation that is expected to come to City Council in December.
Inevitably, the debate comes down to this: Should government entities, when possible, always buy local, or should they try as hard as they can to get the most for the taxpayers’ money, even if that means not buying locally?
You can’t always have it both ways.
Sincerely, City Hall
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