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County OKs new purchasing policy
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Newton County has a new purchasing policy to guide future decisions, to prevent a recurrence of past issues with business licenses and when to bid out certain contracts, and to support the "buy local" mindset.

The Newton County Board of Commissioners approved the policy last week, but only after a discussion about whether to include a local preference clause that would give Newton County-based businesses a chance to price-match, assuming they were within 5 percent of the original price.

Buy local?

The Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce and other local groups have been pushing residents, businesses and local governments to buy goods and services from local companies whenever possible, and Newton County now has the idea built into its policy.

The county’s new policy allows local businesses – assuming they meet all requirements – to match the lowest bid as long as the local bid is within 5 percent of the low bid.

Local companies are defined as those that are authorized to do business in Georgia, have an office in Newton County, have a valid local business license, and have paid all taxes. However, the buy local preference only applies to purchases and contracts up to $100,000 and does not apply to bids required by state law.

Commissioner Nancy Schulz said she had two citizens question whether allowing local vendors to match a low bid would discourage people from making "good, clean" bids the first time.

However, the rest of the board felt the clause was a good addition.

County Manager John Middleton said the county looked at policies of multiple counties and found that some had the local vendor preference and others did not. He said the county has a responsibility to publicize the fact it does have a local vendor preference clause, and said it was a good topic for discussion as it could potentially drive away business, but at the same time, the chamber and others are supporting buy local initiatives.

Commissioner Lanier Sims said there are many situations in which local vendors are not within 5 percent of the low bid to begin with and will not be eligible to match. One example from last week was the bid to install a metal roof on the Miracle League complex pavilion; a Loganville company won the bid and neither of the two local companies that bid was within 5 percent.

Commissioner John Douglas said the Board of Commissioners should be the "No. 1 cheerleading team for Newton County" and encourage business growth. If a local preference clause could bring more business to Newton County, that would be a great effect, Douglas said.

Commissioner J.C. Henderson said citizens have told the board repeatedly over the years they want governments to spend as much money locally as possible, and Commissioner Levie Maddox said the comments he heard last week were in support of the clause.

Schulz said she was comfortable with the discussion and made the motion to adopt the policy, which passed unanimously.

Middleton said the policy document as a whole is much easier to read and doesn’t leave a lot of gray areas.

 Requirements for vendors

After issues with previous vendors not having valid local business licenses, the purchasing policy now states expressly that a county contractor must have a "valid business license for the duration of the contract term," along with "all applicable state licenses and certifications." Copies of the documents must be provided when a proposal or bid is submitted, and updated copies must be provided at the expiration of a contract or at the request of the county.

Contractors also must maintain a minimum of $1 million of "comprehensive general liability," "commercial automobile liability," and "statutory workers’ compensation" insurance.

Contractors must also participate in programs to ensure they’re only hiring lawful immigrants and citizens.Contractors will be disqualified if they are "in material default or in liquidated damages on another city or county contract," have been "convicted in the last five years of any crime involving bid-rigging, kickbacks or similar conduct" or are "currently in litigation with the county regarding a county contract."

Contracts that recur every year may be awarded with up to four annual renewals, and bids should be issued prior to the contract expiring, though the board can request a reissuance of proposals at any time during the contract period.

 Purchasing approval

County department heads are able to approve purchases of supplies and services under $2,500. Services over $5,000 must be approved by the Board of Commissioners. Purchases of goods or services for more than $50,000 must be bid out and approved by the Board of Commissioners.