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Hall commissioners debate giving local businesses advantage with bids
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The Hall County Board of Commissioners still is looking at ways to give local businesses a leg up in the county’s competitive bidding process.

The commission has toyed with the idea of an ordinance that would favor businesses from within Hall County as long as they are within 1 percent to 3 percent of the lowest bidder. At this point, no ordinance has been presented.

At Monday’s work session, the issue was brought up again when Purchasing Manager Tim Sims recommended awarding a bid for the base and paving of various county roads to the lowest bidder — a company out of Marietta.

The second lowest bidder is a Gainesville-based company that offered to perform the job for $12,000 more, roughly a 1 percent difference between the total costs presented by the two companies.

According to state law, which covers all procurement processes, professional services are treated differently than public works projects, Sims said.

The county views price as a priority with public works projects like paving, said Assistant Hall County Administrator Phil Sutton. The lowest responsive, responsible bidder is the first choice.

"A bid is a hard price as long as they’re qualified," Sutton said.

The emphasis is put on qualifications in professional services, such as architecture or construction management.

"Qualifications are first and most important; price is secondary," Sutton said.

Commissioner Bobby Banks said he would like for the county to be able to have more discretion in public works projects, too.

"We should not show preferential treatment," Banks said. "I’m all for local within reason."

Banks said he thinks as long as a local bid is within 1 percent to 3 percent of the lowest bidder it would be more beneficial for the county.

"When those guys come from Atlanta up here, he brings everything with him. They spend absolutely no money in Hall County," Banks said. "A local guy, he pays people that live here, shop here, everything."

Hall County Attorney Bill Blalock said a county ordinance favoring local businesses could come under legal fire and research would need to be done before anything is passed.

"Of course you always get into the issue of, can you discriminate in favor of county bidders against out-of-county bidders," Blalock said. "Undoubtedly there will be some challenges on that based on equal protection and due process in the constitution."

Blalock said Senate Bill 44, effective July 1, is statewide legislation that is similar to what the county is looking to enact.

The bill provides governments the option to purchase products produced or manufactured in Georgia that are not the lowest bid as long as they can show that their products will have an economic benefit for the state. It is up to the individual companies to prove their economic impact.

"In the case of (Hall County) road construction, I doubt it would apply," Blalock said.

The issue will come up for further discussion at the commission’s next board meeting, scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday.