The preference would require a change to the city’s ordinances that could occur as soon as April.
Speaking with heads of the city’s Public Utilities department at Thursday’s work session, Councilman Danny Dunagan asked about the possibility of awarding construction jobs to local contractors even if they do not present the lowest bid for the cost of the job.
Dunagan asked if the department could give preference to local contractors if their bids were within a small percentage — from 3 percent to 5 percent — of the lowest bidder.
"The money goes in the banks here, they hire local people, they do business locally and, in the long run, the bids will be cheaper," said Dunagan.
Both Councilman Robert "Bob" Hamrick and Councilman George Wangemann expressed support for Dunagan’s request.
"The local contractor does pay taxes here, and that makes some difference," Wangemann said.
The city’s ordinance as it stands only allows for the city to award contracts to the lowest bidders, said Gainesville City Attorney James E. "Bubba" Palmour.
The discussion spurred from a request from the utilities department to award the construction of the new Thompson Bridge force main to Gary’s Grading & Pipeline Co. Inc. of Monroe.
Though the company submitted the lowest bid for the job, estimating the cost to be $2,273,036, a Gainesville company submitted a bid within $16,000 of the lowest bid.
Dunagan suggested that the city have the contractors resubmit their bids for the Thompson Bridge work after the city revised its ordinance to allow for preference of local contractors.
"The citizens are better off with the $2.3 million from the local company than they are from the ones that are going to take this out of town and buy from out of town and do business from out of town when it’s all said and done," Dunagan said.
However, Tim Collins, assistant director of Gainesville’s utility department, said that process would push back the already-behind project, which will allow for more sewer capacity in the Murrayville area, by at least another three months.
The department had previously planned to complete the project by the end of July in an agreement with Fieldale Farms, but some permitting issues with the Army Corps of Engineers deemed the completion date impossible.
Asking for new bids could also mean that the bids come in at a higher price than last time, since economic conditions are bound to change, Collins said.
"The times are such that bidding is very competitive," Collins said.
Council members agreed to continue with the award of the job to the Monroe company, but expressed a desire to change the city’s ordinances as soon as possible to allow them to give preference to local construction companies.
There are about three or four counties in the state that give preference to local contractors when awarding construction contracts, Palmour said.
"There is not anything in the (state) law that says you can’t, there’s not anything in the (state) law that says you can," said Palmour. "They’re doing it and nobody’s testing it."
Palmour told the four council members — Mayor Myrtle Figueras was absent from the meeting — that he would work on a draft of the ordinance and have it for them soon at an upcoming work session.
"To me, the whole purpose of bidding is to protect the economic welfare of the citizens of the city of Gainesville and what is best for them," Palmour said.