The St. Mary’s County Commissioners, on a 4-1 vote Tuesday, approved giving a preference to St. Mary’s County businesses in the county’s procurement process. Commissioner Lawrence Jarboe voted against the policy.
Under the new policy, a local vendor preference of 10 percent (with a maximum $50,000 extra cost to the county) will be given. The proposal also changes the threshold for a bid requirement from $15,000 to $25,000 and reduces the procedure requirements for projects under $25,000.
Small businesses would register to receive e-mails of procurement proposals and could deal directly with the department making the proposal. County Chief Financial Officer Elaine Kramer says, however, that all such bids would have to be ratified by the procurement office to insure the rules were followed.
For procurement from $2,500 to $15,000 a request for quotations would be issued by the county and small businesses could respond with a quote, reducing the time and the amount of paperwork for a bid.
Jarboe, (R: 3rd), in opposing the motion, said, “I see the political benefit of getting more money for some local businesses,” but added in the long run it would result in higher costs and less competition.
Commissioner Todd Morgan (R: 4th), who has 30 years of procurement experience, made the motion to approve the policy change. He said, “Nothing is perfect. It may cost more and it may cost less.” But he said the benefits of “buy local” outweighed any potential negatives.
Commission President Francis “Jack” Russell (D) noted that the policy would be subject to review and possible tweaking. Commission Cynthia Jones (R: 1st) agreed that a periodic review could determine whether the policy is working.
Commissioner Daniel Morris (R: 2nd) expressed some reservations about the policy during previous discussions. He mentioned that business people who lived in the county but had offices outside would not be able to take advantage of the policy. But Morris said, “Give it a try and see what happens.” He added, “Our local businesses are struggling. I am going to support it for that reason.”
Only one person opposed the policy during the public hearing two weeks ago. Wayne Abernathy of Mechanicsville, a retiree, said “I will save a dollar any way I can,” noting he was willing to purchase something cheaper at Walmart in Waldorf on his next trip there. He called the proposal a “welfare system for business” and added, “It is not the taxpayers’ business to do that.” Abernathy criticized the county for not presenting a cost-benefit analysis on the proposal.
But, another hearing speaker, Kim Bowes of California, said studies have shown that of a $100,000 procurement to a local business, $68,000 stays in the county. For an out-of-county Maryland business that shrinks to $32,000 and for an out-of-state business it falls to $13,000. Even with the 10 percent preference, she said the co