Although it probably will be delayed from tonight's agenda, the issue of giving favored treatment to local companies bidding on city projects is likely to be revisited soon by the Lawrence City Commission.
This is a perennial discussion raised by local residents or commissioners concerned that some city tax dollars are going to pay out-of-town contractors instead of being kept in the community. City commissioners have determined several times that the disadvantages of having a pro-local policy outweigh the advantages, but the idea nonetheless arises from time to time.
Do local bidders need a special advantage?
In fact, they really already have one. If they are paying attention to their surroundings, local bidders are more likely to be able to customize their services to meet the city's needs. They also should be more aware of what projects are pending and how the city's bidding process works. In addition, some of their actual costs of doing business should be less. Transportation and telephone costs, for instance should be less for a local firm bidding a project than for one from out of town.
Some commissioners aptly point out that giving preference to local bidders instead of following the city's current policy of simply accepting the low bid on a project could backfire for local business. If Lawrence is viewed as being protectionistic about its hiring practices, government entities in Topeka or Kansas City or other locations may decide to discriminate against local bidders.
There's also the problem of determining exactly what constitutes a local bidder. Are Perry or Eudora firms considered local? Or would only Lawrence firms need apply? In much the same way the U.S. is moving into a world economy, Lawrence is becoming part of an ever-broadening economic sphere.
The key issue is that when it awards contracts, the city is spending local tax dollars, and it is vital that commissioners get the most for the city's money. While it is nice to spend those dollars with local firms, it is vital that the city make sure the money is well-spent. The city and its taxpayers can't afford to use tax dollars to support local businesses that are submitting bids that aren't competitive with those from other firms.
Lawrence city commissioners will likely discuss the local bidding issue again and likely reach the same conclusion: that setting a policy favoring local businesses isn't practical or desirable. Given a fair break, local firms are more than capable of competing with firms from other towns for city jobs.