Local governments use set procedure for high-cost purchases and services

In November the Williamson County Purchasing Department simplified its bid process for county projects.

County Purchasing Agent Bob Space said the department created a way to streamline the process for businesses and contractors who submit bids to the county.

The two-step system is expected to decrease the amount of paperwork a business must submit early in the bid process, Space said.

"We're excited about it because it's going to open doors of opportunity for businesses," he said. "I think it will result in better pricing, too."

Government work

Local governments often seek competitive bids for expenditures greater than $50,000, although there are some exceptions, said Joy Baggett-Simonton, city of Leander purchasing agent. In Leander, informal quotes in writing or by phone are solicited for all purchases of goods and services between $3,000 and $24,999. The purchasing department assists with quotes totaling $25,000 or more and for all formal bids of $50,000

or more.

"Professional services are solicited with a request for qualification, not an invitation to bid," she said. "Some examples of professional services are engineering or architecture."

The cities of Cedar Park and Leander as well as Williamson County's bid process follow state statutes outlined in the local government code.

"The Legislature wanted to ensure open and fair processes to make sure everyone had an opportunity to participate," Space said.

Seeking bids

Once it is determined the city or county must seek a bid, the terms of the bid are outlined with help from the department seeking the goods or services. The city or county requests various documents from the bidder depending on the nature of the bid, said Aaron Rector, Cedar Park assistant director of finance.

"Standard information would include scope of work, cost, references, proof of insurance, a conflict of interest form and a W-9 form," he said.

According to the local government code, bids may be awarded to the lowest bidder or the bidder with the best value. In Cedar Park, certain bids are scored on a matrix based on the criteria advertised in the proposal. Rector said those criteria include purchase price, the bidder's reputation and past relationship with the city as well as total long-term costs, among other factors.

In Leander, Baggett-Simonton said some bidders may be asked to make an oral presentation about their qualifications to the team charged with selecting the best option for the city.

"These presentations will provide the respondent the opportunity to clarify their proposal and ensure a mutual understanding of the services to be provided and the approach to be used," she said.

Bids for all municipalities must be accepted for a minimum of two weeks, though in some instances the time frame is longer. Once the request is closed, each bid is evaluated based on the criteria listed in the bid and if the bid is complete.

"If someone has met the minimum specifications, we are still looking at the price as it relates to any additional costs, like warranty costs, service costs [or] delivery costs," Space said. "That's the point where you can determine lowest and best value."

Although the county and city receive bids from throughout Central Texas and the U.S., local vendors sometimes provide a better value for large purchases when considering maintenance, repair and replacement costs, Space said.

"We know that when it comes to local bidders, there are many times when they can offer us the best value because of delivery charges and service costs," Space said. "Sometimes with vehicles that becomes important."

The city of Leander occasionally requires a bidding company to be within close proximity to the city, Baggett-Simonton said. Government code also requires municipalities to solicit their goods and services needs to historically underutilized businesses.