City commissioners tonight will have the chance to do more than just talk about the benefits of buying local.
At their weekly meeting, commissioners will consider changing their vehicle purchasing policy to make it easier for local auto dealers to bid on city vehicle purchases.
"I want to make sure that we get the best value for taxpayers, but we have to make sure that we give our local businesses a chance," said Mayor Mike Amyx, who has worked on creating the new policy. "They all pay a lot of taxes, and they all contribute a lot to this community."
But purchasing professionals are cautioning commissioners the new policy may be a bit of a lemon for taxpayers. The new policy would remove the city from a major purchasing cooperative that allows the city to combine its vehicle bids with about 20 other cities, counties and nonprofits in the Kansas City area.
"I definitely think it has saved us money," said Jackie Waggoner, who serves as the county's purchasing director and also is the president of the cooperative organization. "It gets us some nice volume discounts."
The system, though, often made it difficult for local dealers to sell to the city because if they wanted to make a bid to sell to the city, they had to offer a bid to the entire cooperative, which is dubbed the Mid America Council of Public Purchasing.
"We're just interested in trying to sell the cars to our local governments," said Gary Bennett, president and general manager of Lawrence's Laird Noller Automotive. "We don't want to have to make a bid for 100 cars just to sell eight."
Bennett - who with other dealers and representatives of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce lobbied for the change - said a large bid to the cooperative could be a problem for many Lawrence dealers because of the expense of delivering large numbers of cars to the Kansas City area.
The new policy wouldn't guarantee a Lawrence dealer would receive each new vehicle bid. The city would send out bid requests to dealers in Lawrence, Kansas City, Topeka and even Wichita, in some cases. But unlike the current system, dealers would be bidding just on Lawrence's order, not the entire group's.
Bennett said he didn't think the new policy would increase costs to the city. Amyx said he wasn't sure, but he wanted to give the new system a chance.
"We will monitor it," Amyx said. "But if a local dealer is fortunate enough to get the bid, I know a good part of that money that is made here will be spent here. That is an important part of this equation to me."
The number of vehicles the city purchases through the cooperative varies year to year but can easily be more than a dozen, said Alan Landis, the city's purchasing specialist.
He said it was difficult to predict how much more the new system would cost the city. He provided a memo to city commissioners that showed a contract to purchase 11 police cars this year would have been $4,600 higher - in total, not per car - if the city had gone with the one local dealer who submitted bids to the cooperative. He also noted a sport utility vehicle purchase for the Fire & Medical department would have been about $3,400 more if the city had gone with the local vendor.
City commissioners meet at 5 p.m. tonight at City Hall and are scheduled to deal with the policy change as a part of their consent agenda - which is reserved for approving routine items.