When is spending $1 million a good deal and spending $58,000 not such a good deal?Recent decisions by the Jefferson County Commission answer that question.
I voted with my fellow commissioners to approve spending tax dollars on two very important projects. Implementing a computer-aided dispatch system for emergency personnel, such as police, fire and medical services, will cost about $800,000 — money which has been saved in a capital account for this purpose. Jefferson County is the last county in the state of West Virginia to implement computer-aided dispatch.
When a 911 call is received, the nearest emergency vehicle will be dispatched automatically. This will help lower response times. The system will also provide critical information to police officers as they respond to calls. In the case of a domestic disturbance, for example, the system will display background about whether previous calls have been received at the location and whether weapons were involved. Having this information could help save a police officer’s life.
The second big expenditure of tax dollars involves a new telephone system for county government. The funds needed for this project — $250,000 — are also in the capital fund account. The new phone system will pay for itself over the coming years. Indeed, the cost of phone service for county government could be reduced by as much as 50 percent and greatly improve public access to government offices.
Both these contracts involved a bidding process. A written list of requirements was advertised, responses evaluated, top contenders interviewed, proposals evaluated by technical staff and a recommendation presented to the County Commission for action.
The final decision on a proposed vendor in each case was based on getting the best service at the most competitive price.
Unfortunately, the County Commission has no such bidding requirements for construction projects costing less than $25,000 and no bidding requirements at all for professional service contracts.
I proposed a simple policy to my fellow commissioners in March 2012 to address this problem, that being to require that all contracts for $10,000 be reviewed and re-bid a minimum of once every three years. No action was taken. I resubmitted the proposal in August 2013 and this time it was rejected outright.
The object of bidding is to get the best value for the least cost. There is no way this can occur when contracts are awarded without competition and are never re-evaluated over time.
The classic example in Jefferson County government is a bid for computer services that was first awarded in 1986 and has never been re-bid. Perhaps the consultant still offers the most cost effective services; rebidding would assure this is the case.
Recently, the County Commission approved a contract for $48,000 in computer services and $10,000 for budget advice. Neither went to bid. Given the Commission’s vote against a bidding policy, neither will any other service contract.
In the Jefferson County Commission budget for year 2014, more than $500,000 is allocated for contractual services. In this era of tightening budgets and taxpayer demands for more accountability, the County Commission should be making every effort to assure this money is spent wisely. The only way to convince taxpayers the county is getting the best vendors at the lowest prices is to competitively bid all projects over $10,000 and review those contracts every three years.
— Lyn Widmyer serves on
the Jefferson County Commission