Clallam officials discuss vehicle bid requirement; lament locals staying away

Sheriff Bill Benedict

Sheriff Bill Benedict

PORT ANGELES — A $13,000 budgeting error prompted Clallam County officials to lament a state bidding requirement that makes it difficult for local auto dealers to compete for the county’s business.

“The frustration to me is I really like local,” Sheriff Bill Benedict said in a county commissioners meeting Tuesday.

“I would really like to work with our GMC, Chevy and Ford dealers and say, ‘Hey, what’s the best deal you can get for me?’ I know that in the end, it would be a better deal for us than what we’re doing now.”

The lengthy discussion on bidding for vehicles was triggered by one of five debatable budget emergencies that the three commissioners approved unanimously Tuesday.

County Treasurer Selinda Barkhuis had raised concerns over the $13,000 transfer of general fund reserves to the equipment rental and revolving, or ER&R, fund for the sheriff’s office to replace a 20-year-old pickup with a new truck instead of a van.

Testifying in a public hearing on the budget emergencies, Barkhuis said the board did not discuss the transfer in a work session as required by administrative policy.

She noted that the county is trying to reduce its use of general fund reserves this year.

“When it’s coming out of general fund reserves, I really would encourage you to just follow the policy and require these discussions at work session before moving them on for public hearing,” Barkhuis said.

Board Chairman Mark Ozias said the resolution to adopt the monthly debatable budget emergencies was discussed at a work session but without “any additional detail” from the sheriff’s office.

“I don’t think anyone from the sheriff’s office was here during the work session, or else I’m sure that most of these questions would have come up then,” Ozias said.

Benedict said the $13,000 budget request stemmed from a “misunderstanding” between his department and ER&R.

The ER&R manager had developed specifications for a van to replace the old pickup, which was used to tow utility trailers, boats and vehicles, Benedict said.

“A van wasn’t suitable,” he said.

The sheriff’s office will use the approved emergency funds to purchase an estimated $45,000, three-quarter-ton, full-size GMC pickup, Benedict said.

State law requires that the county go out to bid to purchase vehicles worth more that $7,500, County Administrator Jim Jones said.

Benedict said the bidding requirement is cumbersome for his office and for auto dealers because of the paperwork and lag times.

“To my knowledge, at least in the last five or six years, none of our local car dealers even attempt to go for bid because they’ll get beat by $300 or $400, and that’s enough,” Benedict told commissioners.

Because of the bid requirement, the sheriff’s office purchases most of its vehicles in the Tacoma area, incurring considerable costs to send personnel to pick them up, Benedict said.

Commissioner Bill Peach requested advice from senior staff on how to “streamline the process.”

“If there’s a chance to save the county money by eliminating a bureaucratic roadblock, it’s our responsibility to take a look at that,” Peach said.

Jones said state law has “absolutely zero flexibility” in the requiring bids for purchases over $7,500.

“I think that the bureaucracy is something beyond us,” Benedict said.

“If we can change the state law so that we could bid locally for this, that would be our solution.”

County commissioner meetings are streamed live and archived at www.clallam.net. Click on “Board of Commissioners” and “Meeting Agendas &Minutes.”

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

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