County Commissioners open door to allow local preference for county contracts

EL PASO, Texas - El Paso County is looking to change the way it weighs bids from local businesses.

Right now, bids are looked at on strictly a cost basis.  The lowest bid wins.

That was the course the County was heading towards with a bid process as recently as this week, when a concern was brought up by a fleet manager at Casa Ford.  Rick Kenly, Casa Ford Fleet and Commercial Manager, was upset that an out-of-town company was in-line to be paid roughly $2 million between two contracts despite their standing with the community.

Now, a change will take effect that will give local businesses a foot up.

Texas legislators changed state code during the past session allowing local preference.  In the past, state law didn't allow local preference.

Commissioner Tania Chozet pointed out that the city of El Paso, had recently changed the way it looked at it's bids.  Chozet stated that the City was giving preference to businesses that were located in our area.

County workers told commissioners that the change in state code allowed for that.

As it happens, on the same day an employee from Casa Ford raised concerns, the El Paso County Commissioners court brought forward an item to discuss the issue of weighing cost versus local businesses.

Nothing is set in stone.  Instead, County Judge Veronica Escobar brought an item before the court to request the Procurement Review Panel (PRP) look at the items and determine whether they could draft a policy that would allow local preferences for future bids with El Paso County

Not a single County Commissioner raised an argument against looking into the policy.

In the case of Casa Ford, the County was looking to spend money on two transport vans, and several Sheriff's Deputies units.  Rather than award the bid to the local company, the amounts came in cheaper for Caldwell Country Ford a business that doesn't reside in El Paso county.

Joe Lopez, a purchasing agent for El Paso county, explained the County was simply looking at the lowest bid.

"I, myself, was just following what was cited by the purchasing agent," said Lopez, referring to a former employee who came to the conclusion.

Kenly raised questions because the alternate company didn't submit a bid bond.  A bid bond is a cash deposit that gives the county insurance that the winning bid will enter the contract if they win the award.  However, the former employee awarded the bid because the Caldwell County Ford dealership was giving the price based off a similar deal with Terrant County.  Lopez said he was directed that, that made it unnecessary to give a bid bond.

"I just hate giving money to an out-of-town company," said Kenly.

There is no word whether the potential change in direction for the county's bidding process, would effect the vehicle project for the Sheriff's Department.

Commissioner Sergio Lewis did make note that he would be willing to look at the item again, stating: "I too, would be very interested in looking at this one again if we're looking at a $500 difference."

County Commissioners court decided to take up the contract next week.  There is no word yet on whether a change will be made, but the PRP isn't expected to come back with new plans to allow local preference until next week.

It was also noted that the County will not be able to be as flexible as other local municipalities to allow local preference, but the county attorney has looked at the item.  It appears, at this time, that a change in the bidding process for El Paso county could occur soon.

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