BROOKINGS – The Brookings City Council faced criticism Tuesday over the purchase of two 2020 police sport utility vehicles and a 2020 Elgin Pelican Street Sweeper – not for the purchases themselves, but because the city wasn’t buying the equipment locally.
City officials explained that state law dictates they take the low bid on those purchases, no matter where the seller is, but there may be another process the councilors could pursue.
Police Chief Dave Erickson reported on the two vehicles his department wanted to purchase and why they were needed.
“This purchase replaces one 2017 Ford marked police vehicle which has reached its 100,000-mile benchmark for replacement. This vehicle has been slated to be declared as surplus and sold. The second vehicle will be an additional vehicle to the fleet of patrol vehicles which was approved by the city council as part of the 10-year CIP for the 2020 budget year,” according to a memo by Erickson attached to the agenda on the city’s website.
Two bids were received, with the low bid of $77,866 coming from Nelson Auto Center in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. The other bid of $78,574 came from Einspahr Auto Plaza in Brookings.
“Budget for these two vehicles was set at a total of $84,000 resulting in savings of $6,133.32,” according to Erickson’s memo.
The council approved the purchase of both vehicles.
Street Superintendent Matt Bartley explained why his department needed a new street sweeper and why he wanted to purchase this one from Sanitation Projects.
“The new sweeper will replace a 2014 Elgin Pelican sweeper. Replacement of street sweepers occurs on a six-year basis in order to reduce maintenance costs and breakdowns. The 2014 sweeper will be sold once the 2020 sweeper is received. Last year our 2013 sweeper was sold for $30,000,” according to a memo by Bartley.
“The Street Department has two street sweepers within its fleet that run every day of the workweek. The street sweeper not only assists in maintaining the street surface, but assists in stormwater efforts,” according to Bartley’s memo.
The 2020 Elgin Pelican Street Sweeper from Sanitation Products costs $206,226. The 2020 CIP has a budget amount of $195,000, according to Bartley’s memo.
“The equipment cost is over budget; however, the sale of the existing 2014 sweeper will reduce the overall price and bring it within budget. Sweepers are replaced every six years. The street sweeper is part of street maintenance, but more importantly stormwater best management practices,” Bartley said.
Diane Fjerstad raised an objection, not over the purchases, but where they were being purchased from, accusing the council of not practicing what they preach.
“You go on and on about buying local and I’ve just heard two purchases of the city – one in the state of Minnesota – what’s up with that?” Fjerstad asked.
City Manager Paul Briseno said he and City Attorney Steve Britzman had just spoken about it that morning.
Britzman said the first bid was competitively bid.
“Under the competitive bidding statutes, the low bid is the one that would be, typically, selected,” Britzman said.
Fjerstad asked if they typically go out of state for bids.
For the low bid, yes they can, Britzman said.
“So buying local it’s just for the citizens, not for the city,” Fjerstad said.
“Well, I wouldn’t reach that conclusion, at all,” Britzman said. “I’m just saying that statutorily, or following state law, the bidding process would allow bidders from (a) neighboring state or others, to try to supply the contract and submit a bid, so the city does follow that competitive bidding law. And the low bid is required to be taken.
“The second one would be, again, a low bid situation where the purchase is made through an existing contract, which has been through the bidding process, as well,” Britzman said.
Sourcewell is a nonprofit organization which coordinates contracts that have been competitively bid, so municipalities and other government entities can purchase equipment that’s been bid before, he added.
“This would have to be the low bid, as well, for that item to be purchased by the city,” Britzman said.
“The idea of the bidding statutes is basically to protect municipal resources so that the city is purchasing at the best possible price and sometimes that item is supplied by a neighboring community or another state. And yet, the low bid is the one that prevails,” Britzman said.
“That might be what people say when they shop elsewhere, too, just to let you know. It’s not excusable for you and not for general citizens,” Fjerstad said.
Councilor Holly Tilton Byrne said she had also noticed it when she looked at the bids. The difference between the two bids for the vehicles was “rather miniscule,” she added.
“I do recognize that it is state statute, state law, saying that municipalities must take the low bid, and so in that regard, law-wise, we are a little bit bound to that,” Tilton Byrne said.
“I know for some state and governmental processes, you can put a scorecard of sorts into place and use that in the bidding process,” she said, adding the process allows giving greater weight for something like geographic preference.
“Would we have the leeway to do that kind of thing in our bid process?” she asked.
“We would be able to use an alternative purchase approach, which would be the Requests For Proposals as opposed to the competitive bidding,” Britzman said. “The Request For Proposal procedure would allow you to determine what’s in the best interest of the city which would not exclusively be resulting in the lowest possible price for the purchase of the item.”
“As long as it qualifies as being in the best interest of the city, that could be used as a mechanism to acquire an item for the city,” he said.
“So I would like to challenge us as a council to do that kind of thing, because I think you’ve hit the nail on the head,” Tilton Byrne said to Fjerstad.
“We need to, not only as citizens to shop local, but we need to set that example as a city, as well. I think that we do still need to be very good stewards of the dollar and so if we are to do that, I would like to see it say something along the lines of as long as the two competing bids are within a certain percentage or a certain dollar amount of one another, that we would have the option to give way to a more local or maybe what we deem more appropriate bid,” Tilton Byrne said.
“Maybe not for every purchase we do, but at least try it for a couple and see if it works,” she said.
Councilor Leah Brink asked whether the competitive bidding process was all or nothing.
“We have to do that process, or we do an RFP process, or can they be mixed and matched?” she asked.
You could give weight to the low price in the RFP process, Britzman said, “but the competitive bidding would be basically developing specifications and then you’re really guided to purchase, if they satisfy the specifications.”
Brink asked if the RFP process takes more staff time.
“It could take more, … they do kind of track along the same considerations, so I would say it would not be exceedingly more labor intensive,” Britzman said.
Briseno said the fire chief wanted to use the same procedure that was used for the street sweeper for an upcoming fire truck purchase because of the time it would take.
“We could do it (another way); it would just take an additional year to get that truck,” Briseno said.
For smaller vehicles, the city could go to a state bid process, he said.
“But the slippery slope is … what is that percentage?” he said, adding the council would have to have a discussion to justify the additional cost if a local bid was even 1% over the lowest bid.
“But I agree, whenever you can spend local, that helps our local economy,” Briseno said. “That’s why, internally, we do try to buy local as much as possible.”
Corbett said they could put the topic on a future study session for the council.
Contact Jodelle Greiner at [email protected]