Five of eight council candidates support local-preference bid policy

PHOTO BY MIKE WIGGINS—District A candidate Tom Kenyon joined other candidates for the Grand Junction City Council Tuesday at a debate event where the idea of preferences being given to local companies bidding on city projects was raised. Kenyon said he would support some form of a local-preference policy, but was among others who questioned what such a policy would look like.

A majority of Grand Junction City Council candidates said Wednesday they would support some form of a policy that gives preference to local businesses bidding on city projects.

That sort of stance contrasts with the current policy employed by city officials, who award contracts to contractors who submit the lowest bid, regardless of where they’re from.

The comments came during a 90-minute council candidate forum at the Redlands Community Center. It was sponsored by the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce.

All eight candidates vying for four seats attended the forum: Unopposed District E Councilwoman Teresa Coons; District D Councilwoman Bonnie Beckstein and candidate Reford Theobold; District A candidates Tom Kenyon and Ken Sublett; and at-large candidates Roland Cole, Bill Pitts and Sam Susuras. Terri Binder, who was a candidate for the District A seat, has dropped out of the race.

One of 177 questions that chamber members prepared in advance of the forum indicated that members support a local-preference bid policy and asked candidates whether they back such a policy.

Five of them — Cole, Kenyon, Pitts, Sublett and Theobold — said they would support some form of a local-preference policy but questioned what such a policy would look like.
Sublett suggested contracts could be awarded to local contractors if their bid came within a certain percentage — he gave 5 percent as an example — of the lowest price.

Theobold questioned how a local contractor would be defined, saying he would support a broad, regional definition that gives Western Slope firms an advantage over those on the Front Range but not one that pits businesses in Grand Junction against others on the Western Slope.

“If there is a significant difference in a bid from a contractor that is not local, we have to keep in mind that it is the taxpayers’ money that we’re spending, and they’re going to hold us accountable,” Cole cautioned.

Beckstein and Coons did not specifically say whether they would get behind a local-preference policy. Beckstein said the city needs to revisit its low-bid policy to see if it can come up with “a happy medium.”

Coons noted the cost savings that could come with hiring local contractors by not having to bring in crews and equipment from outside the community. But “it’s a dangerous thing to try and set that limit for a local preference, and we have to consider it very carefully,” she said.

Susuras was the only candidate to oppose a local-preference policy, saying that while the city should support local businesses as much as possible, setting a policy would dilute competition.

Candidates also were asked what they would do to stimulate the local economy, streamline the city’s development review process and improve the city’s infrastructure.

Among the more noteworthy responses were Beckstein pushing to keep private sector jobs from being incorporated into the city — noting she was opposed to the Fire Department taking over ambulance service a couple of years ago — and Theobold advocating for the city spending more money on capital projects and less on operations.

Theobold said the number of city employees has increased “significantly” in recent years, although City Manager Laurie Kadrich pointed out previously that the number of employees per 1,000 city residents has actually declined in the last two decades.

The chamber is expected to endorse candidates later this month.


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