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Garfield County may try to help its contractors

John Colson
Glenwood Springs, CO, Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – Area contractors are hoping that Garfield County will adopt a “locals preference” rule with regard to the awarding of county contracts, and the county commissioners seem primed to go along as a way of helping local companies survive the recession.

But there remain a number of questions about the issue, including whether the county should adopt a rule that counts only for in-county contractors, or whether the definition of “local” should be stretched to include contractors in neighboring counties, as well.

“At a bare minimum, it should be every county that touches us,” advised contractor Mark Gould of Glenwood Springs, although others requested that the county restrict its definition of “local” to those contractors that maintain their business address within Garfield County.



“We would like to see a local be Garfield County,” said contractor John Kuersten, who employs between 120 and 150 people in the area.

The reason, Kuersten said, is that “the wage structure [in Garfield County] is double that in adjacent counties,” which gives out-of-county contractors a competitive edge over companies based here.



According to county manager Ed Green, at a recent meeting of Western Slope county managers in Montrose, most of those present indicated they “would prefer that it be on a regional basis,” meaning not limited to Garfield County businesses, in order to allow counties to make use of a wider pool of talent.

The issue is subject to a countywide survey of contractors, and the survey has been posted on the county’s website, http://www.garfield-county.com, under the “purchasing” button in the “county departments” pull-down menu.

Kent Long, the county’s purchasing department official charged with researching the issue, said on Tuesday, “From what I heard at the meeting, it seemed that our contractors would prefer a Garfield-only preference, but that a regional preference rule would be acceptable.”



Long referred to the Sept. 21 meeting of the county commissioners, at which a number of area contractors testified in favor of a “locals preference” rule of some sort.

The county currently has what is known as a “reciprocating vendor preference,” which basically calls for preferential treatment for a local contractor only if an out-of-county contractor, which is bidding on the same job, has previously gotten preferential treatment in his home county.

Long said such reciprocating rules are common in Colorado and throughout the U.S., although there are many variations that come into play from one jurisdiction to another.

For example, he said, some governments have a “second-chance rule” that allows for a locally based contractor to re-submit a bid if, on the first go-round, the local company was underbid by 5 percent or less.

Another topic was the question of what are known as “design-build contracts,” in which the county issues a request for proposals that specifically calls for bids that include both design and construction.

“We’re not bidding on these contracts,” said Joe Wheeler, because smaller companies such as his cannot afford to keep architects on staff and typically have to either partner up with an architect or depend on the county to come up with a design before putting a project out to bid.

Green, in defense of the design-build concept, pointed out that it was easier for the county to deal with and cut down on the problems associated with “change orders,” if it is a design-build contract.

Commissioner Tresi Houpt, after listening to the testimony, declared, “I think we need to look at our full process,” including an evaluation of the locals preference idea as well as the design-build format, “to be sure we’re not making it impossible for our local contractors” to bid on county projects.

Green responded that the county could “front” money to a local contractor to pay the costs of project design, then put the design out to bid strictly as a construction project and thereby level the playing field for the smaller companies.

But, he stressed to the commissioners, “We need to consider what’s best for the residents in general, because they’re paying the bills.”

Long will continue working on the concept and be back before the county commissioners on Oct. 12 for a second presentation.

jcolson@postindependent.com


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