It’s been a struggle for Hall County to drum up competition for its goods, services and capital improvement needs over the last year, and the result could be costly for taxpayers.
Officials tried to remedy that with a conference Wednesday aimed at educating businesses about the process of bidding on local government contracts.
“We have all been disappointed, not only with local participation, but the response to bids (overall),” said Hall County Commissioner Billy Powell. “We’ll send out 25 bid packages and get one or two responses. And that’s just unacceptable.”
For example, the county received just one proposal on a recent contract to demolish and rebuild a tennis court in the Village at Deaton Creek subdivision despite opening the bid to businesses on two occasions.
Marietta-based Talbot Tennis offered to do the work for about $60,000, and the county agreed, even though it was slightly more than had been initially budgeted.
“It’s hard to have confidence that that’s the best price that you can get for the county when you have such a low response,” Powell said.
County officials said they hope Wednesday’s conference will generate more interest and participation among businesses in the future.
That idea resonated with Ronnie Stanford, director of sales at dB Audio & Video in Gainesville.
“We’d like to do business” with the county, he said, but added that he is unsure about whether the conference will pay off for his company.
Contracts with private industry can be a big business in Hall County.
The county spent about $81 million in the 2014 fiscal year on goods, services and infrastructure project deals with businesses.
And that figure has exceeded $100 million in previous years, according to Purchasing Manager Tim Sims.
“We’re a stable consumer for businesses, buying many different kinds of goods and services, and we want to make sure we are doing our due diligence in making the purchasing process clear and effective,” Sims said.
However, there are strict rules governing how bids are accepted and awarded, a process that is sometimes intimidating to small private vendors, Powell said.
“The idea is to help educate local vendors to ease the pain of participation,” he added.
And Finance Director Vickie Neikirk said breeding more competition “gives taxpayers the best bang for their buck.”
The conference included an introduction to purchasing and contracting officers, bidding procedures and requirements, and how to prepare requests for proposals.
Price, while certainly important, is not the sole determining factor when it comes to awarding contracts to businesses through a request for work proposals, Sims said, adding references, scope and ability are all considered.
Sims and purchasing officials said businesses can assist them by responding to requests for proposals even if they do not plan to make a bid.
Business representatives were also told that bids for services and projects are sometimes split, meaning multiple parties can be awarded a contract.
And Sims advised businesses to thoroughly read requests for proposals and submit a bid that meets all the necessary stipulations. Bids can be disqualified for even the slightest mistakes.
Jeff Satterwhite, a governmental sales representative with Atlantic & Southern Equipment, LLC, with an office in Clayton County, said he appreciated Hall’s willingness to engage businesses.
“I wish more counties would do this,” he said of the conference.
Satterwhite said his company has submitted bids with Hall County on past contracts, though it has never been awarded a deal.
But Satterwhite said he’s not deterred by this, adding that he finds Hall easier to deal with than most local governments.
Cindy Warwick, a commercial and industrial sales representative with EMC Security in Suwanee, said that while she is familiar with the bidding process, it was good to get a refresher.
Her company does lots of business with schools and private industry in Hall, she said, adding that it’s “always a good thing (for government) to reach out (to business).”