DANVILLE — Community leaders have been encouraging residents to do their shopping locally this holiday season, so aldermen decided to practice what's preached and denied bids on two city projects this week — partly because they came from businesses outside Vermilion County.
"I think it's important for the city to practice what it preaches, and I think we should do it in Vermilion County," said Alderman Mike Puhr, Ward 5.
Puhr asked fellow aldermen Tuesday to deny the city staff's recommendation to award a $38,355 copier bid to a Champaign business and award it to a Tilton business that was the highest of three bidders at $41,400.
Most aldermen supported Puhr's motion, including Alderman Bill Black, Ward 7, who said that what you get with a local company is seldom what you can get from one outside your immediate market area. On another project, aldermen also rejected the lowest bid of $60,000 from a Champaign business for carpeting, partly because no local businesses had bid.
Alderman Steve Nichols, Ward 6, said he's a big supporter of local businesses, but the council needs to be careful. He said this practice could cause the city to stop getting bids from outside the city, and that could drive up costs with fewer businesses bidding on city work.
"I think we've been down this road before," said Nichols, who voted to award the copier contract to the Tilton business and voted in favor of rejecting the low carpet bid from the Champaign business.
The council approved Puhr's motion to give the copier job to the Tilton business by a 12-1 vote with Alderman Tom Stone, Ward 5, casting the only no vote.
Stone said he voted no because there was a strong staff recommendation based on analysis of the bids, and the bid recommended by city staff was actually the lower bid when monthly maintenance costs were factored in.
"If something's going to last longer and cost less to maintain, then that should work to the advantage of that particular bid," Stone said. "If you're going to solicit bids from people and not accept the low bid, after a while, we are not going to get bids from those people. I think fair is fair. Everyone had a chance to put in a competitive bid."
The city had asked for proposals for three large-volume copiers and maintenance agreements and received three proposals: from RK Dixon in Champaign, CDS Office Technology in Champaign and DTI in Tilton. A committee of city personnel reviewed the proposals and copier equipment and decided against the lowest-cost proposal from RK Dixon, because the committee didn't like the equipment, and instead, recommended that the council accept the second-lowest proposal from CDS Office Technology. Although the CDS price of $38,355 for all three copiers was $7,143 more than RK Dixon's low bid, CDS had the lowest monthly maintenance costs at $114.
But Puhr made the motion to accept the highest proposal from DTI in Tilton, which had the highest bid for the three copiers at $41,400 and the highest monthly maintenance costs at $123.
Puhr said he did research and found that most of DTI's employees live in Danville, and the business pays about $35,000 in property taxes. However, the business is in Tilton, and none of that revenue would go to Danville.
Puhr said he doubts that CDS employees live in Danville or Vermilion County. Puhr said DTI has provided loaner copiers to the city at reduced or zero cost multiple times when a copier has gone down.
"Champaign is a wonderful place, but they're doing quite well, and I think our area needs to support a business whether it's in Tilton, or whether it's in Danville, or whether it's in Henning, or Rossville, or wherever," Black said.
For some of the same reasons, the council also rejected the bid on the carpet project.
Precision Floor & Tile, 402 N. Maple Street, Urbana, submitted a $67,351 bid to carpet a large portion of the municipal building and Carpet Weavers Commercial, 616 W. Marketview Drive, Champaign, submitted the only other bid, $59,988, which was the lowest and the one recommended by city administrators.
The city held its bid opening Monday, and a Danville business, according to Puhr, had planned to bid on the project but arrived late to the bid opening. That bid from the Bargain Barn, 230 W. Main St., could not be considered, because it was late, according to city officials.
Black said he finds it difficult to explain to residents in his ward that the city is spending $60,000 on carpeting in this economy.
"I just can't do it," he said, "and it's an out-of-town bidder."
Black questioned Public Works Director Doug Ahrens about whether the carpeting really needed to be replaced and whether it should be paid for with money from the 2009 bond. Ahrens said the carpeting is very worn in areas but the project does qualify for bond funding. The city already replaced carpeting a few years ago at city hall, and this work would finish the job, updating the carpeting throughout the building.
Alderman Black said that state law is rather clear on awarding bids to the lowest responsible bidders, but there are communities that have passed ordinances giving local bidders a percentage discount.
Black made the motion that the city reject the low bid from Carpet Weavers Commercial but also requested that the city rebid the project, possibly splitting the job into two parts.
Mayor Scott Eisenhauer said that typically bids can come in higher when projects are re-bid.
Stone, along with Alderman Mike O'Kane, Ward 4, and Alderman Bill Gilbert, Ward 3, voted against rejecting the low carpeting bid.
Although he did not agree with rejecting the low bidder, Stone said he's not worried that bids will be higher a second time. He said when he was city engineer bids were not accepted from time to time for a variety of reasons, sometimes because they were too high, and bids would come in lower next time. He said it has a lot to do with whether it's the busy season for contractors. He said the carpet work was already in the city budget, and the low bid was within the budget.
"I think we can have nice things down there," Stone said, referring to the municipal building.