SPARKS — The struggles of local businesses in the northern Nevada economy were on the minds of City Council members Monday when several purchasing contracts came up for approval.
Some of the contracts dealing with custom and specialty goods and services were awarded to out-of-state companies, drawing little complaint.
Instead, criticism was reserved for those contracts issued to non-local bidders at the potential expense of local, regional or state businesses that can provide the same goods or services at a comparable price.
For some council members, the matter boils down to whether local bidders for public contracts ought to receive some form of preferential treatment.
Councilman Ron Schmitt thinks they should, and he is advocating for a new city policy that would make such a practice standard.
Councilwoman Julia Ratti agrees.
“I would absolutely love it … to support local hiring,” she said at Monday’s meeting.
In the 2010-11 fiscal year, the city spent about $28 million on purchasing contracts, with about 71 percent of that total, or roughly $20 million, going to local and regional businesses, said Assistant City Manager Steve Driscoll.
Moreover, about $8 million went directly to Sparks businesses.
A new state law does give some preference to local bidders, but state law also ties the hands of municipalities when it comes to using their own discretion in awarding contracts.
One of the problems with local bidder preference is that governments sometimes wind up “spending more for the exact same thing,” Driscoll said.
But sending contracts off to out-of-state clients could be costly, too, Schmitt said.
He doesn’t want to see the city paying for travel expenses and other related costs for non-local companies to do business in northern Nevada.
“We should be doing every single thing we can to stretch those dollars,” Schmitt said.
The City Council has scheduled a workshop for 1 p.m. on Dec. 12 to review the laws and discuss what options and changes are available to the city.
Though working through the legal logistics will take some time, Driscoll said, city staff is hoping to have some answers, and a possible new policy direction, by late winter or early spring, when contracts for construction work typically arise.