A preference for local preference

It’s hardly surprising that the majority of Grand Junction City Council candidates, appearing at a forum sponsored by the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, said they would like the city to give some sort of preference to local businesses that bid for city contracts.

It’s also appropriate. Awarding contracts to local businesses — whose management and employees live here, who purchase supplies and personal goods and pay taxes here — ultimately boosts the local economy and helps the city more than hiring a firm whose employees and management take all they earn to some other locale.

But in this instance, the devil is truly in the details.

Should a local preference only be given in the case of a tie bid? Should the local preference be a flat percentage rate, say 5 percent, as candidate Ken Sublett suggested? That seems the simplest solution, but what of those local firms whose bid comes in 5.1 percent above the out-of-area business? And what happens when the bids aren’t identical for the goods or services offered? Is a straight percentage preference the best way to assess the dissimilar bids?

Then there is the question of what “local business” means. Is it only Grand Junction or Mesa County? Does it include companies from surrounding counties? The entire Western Slope?

Eastern Utah?

Also, city officials have a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers. That doesn’t mean always going with the cheapest alternative, but it does require that they not spend the city funds recklessly to reward local firms. A local preference plan that discourages competition from outside bidders because they think they have little chance at winning the contract — as suggested could happen by council candidate Sam Susuras — isn’t in the city’s best interest.

No preference plan will be perfect. But other communities have adopted them and make them work. Some 15 states and more than two dozen cities give a preference to local businesses in one form or another, according to the Minnesota-based Institute for Local Self Reliance. There are existing models available. We think Grand Junction can use them to craft a preference plan that is fair and doesn’t discourage competition.

We applaud those council candidates who are willing to look for ways to make that happen.


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