The Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors voted Monday to reject bids from a state-mandated bidding process, known as a reverse auction, that would have increased the county’s expenses.
In the reverse auction, imposed by the state this year, bids increased nearly across the board, some by as much as 125 percent, and supervisors opted to apply for an exemption for future reverse auctions in favor of the traditional bidding system used previously.
“My suggestion to you guys is to throw out all of the bids and extend the professional service contracts that we have in place right now,” Chris Lafferty, the county administrator, told supervisors during a Thursday work session. “If we accepted the bids… we would quickly go broke.”
Lafferty declined an interview following the supervisors’ Monday meeting.
Supervisors followed Lafferty’s recommendation Monday, voting to throw out bids for traffic control devices, corrugated metal pipes, concrete pipes, asphalt, bridge material and more.
The board approved extending two current contracts by an additional 12 months, both from local companies Lafferty said had tried the reverse bidding process and “tried to do it right.”
Boyette’s Critter Getters and Bill Brackeen Cleaning Service will continue providing pest control and janitorial services for the county, as approved by the board on Monday.
Under Mississippi House Bill 1109, accepted by supervisors last year and effective Jan. 1, 2018, businesses wanting government contracts must solicit bids online, pre-registering for the portal and submitting bids competitively.
The Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration on its website describes this process as a transparent view of competitor pricing and a way to reduce the time it takes to reward contracts.
“The auction gives all potential awardees updates in seconds,” a ‘Reverse Auction Overview’ on the DFA’s website said. “Buyers and bidders are able to justify the winning bid.”
Supervisors said Monday that incoming bids came in at higher prices than previous years with little to no competitive bidding.
Josh Todd, the District 3 supervisor, described a process in which vendors try to accommodate for lower prices from competitors by starting the bidding at a high number, rather than a realistic one. In Lauderdale County, these bids stayed high, rather than going down, because of a lack of bids.
“If culverts go up by 75 cents a foot, you multiply that by 10,000 and that’s a lot of money,” Todd said, using a common project from the roads department. “It’s hurting us on a local level.”
Todd, a vice president in the Mississippi Association of Supervisors, said that the legislature never approached the association or the Mississippi Municipal League to discuss how the bill for reverse auctions would affect their municipalities.
“I believe that (the legislature) had good intentions but it wasn’t thought through,” Todd said. “We could have met together and found a happy medium.”
During the Monday meeting, Todd was more vocal about his opposition to the system, calling it ignorant and a waste.
“You have to accept it or throw it out and start all over again,” Todd said. “This is putting the burden on the taxpayers of Lauderdale County… In my past two terms this is the worst idea the state has handed down to us.”
Lafferty said during Monday’s meeting that Lauderdale County “was apparently one of the only counties” to do the reverse auction this year and follow the state mandate.
“The purchasing department has spent well over 100 hours on this process,” Lafferty said.
Chuck McIntosh, the director of communications at DFA, clarified via email Monday that the reverse auction process worked best with a pool of interested suppliers.
“It is important to have suppliers who are willing to participate and competitive,” McIntosh said. “If, as indicated by the county, they had limited suppliers willing to participate, this can result in higher prices than desired.”
McIntosh said the DFA doesn’t routinely receive data about which counties participate in this system but siad that DeSoto, Neshoba and Simpson Counties have all conducted their own reverse auctions.
In Lauderdale County, attempting to extend current contracts, one vendor, who oversees HVAC, Plumbing and Electrical contracts, asked for a higher price.
During Thursday’s work session, the board discussed how the contract, more than $221,000 for the last year, could have paid for a county position and it decided to create a new position for an HVAC/electric/plumbing technician.
“It might be time to explore hiring a guy that is HVAC qualified,” Lafferty told the supervisors Thursday. “The vast majority of our (HVAC) work is replacing condensers (etc.)… it will cost us far less.”
In the case that the county doesn’t receive an application from a qualified technician, the county has also opened up bidding for a new HVAC vendor.
On Monday, Lafferty also asked the board to approve an application for an exemption from the reverse auction process, which the board voted to approve.