“I do not understand why we would not want to do business with local companies, or at least give them a chance to bid,” Ward 4 Alderman Herb Roach said. “We have four air conditioning companies in just our city,” he said. “We are just going with this one bid from Maryland that was posted in Hawaii and Oregon. It just doesn't make good sense.”
But Mayor Gary Graham said Roach’s complaints boil down to Roach, whom he expects will oppose him in the upcoming mayoral election, which might be a hotly contested battle.
“That’s okay,” Graham said. “He can say anything he wants.”
On Monday of last week, the City Council agreed to buy a $19,985 air conditioning unit from Trane, a supplier with U.S. Communities.
Last September, O'Fallon accepted U.S. Communities bid with Trane for $168,350 to install new air conditioning units for city hall.
Graham said he wants to keep the city's business in O'Fallon.
“I like Bel-O (Heating and Cooling of O'Fallon), too,” Graham said about the local cooling and heating business.
But Graham said he has to do what's best for the taxpayers and get the most competitive price.
“It's all about business,” he said. “We don’t owe U.S. Communities anything.”
U.S. Communities, based in Charlotte, N.C., is a national cooperative purchasing program for school districts, state and local agencies, nonprofit organizations and housing authorities. U.S. Communities was founded in 1996 as a partnership between the Association of School Business Officials, the National Association of Counties, the National League of Cities and the United States Conference of Mayors that looks for the best overall supplier government pricing," according to its website.
In addition to O’Fallon, Belleville and St. Clair County are among the 700-plus government agenices in Illinois who have active partnerships with U.S. Communities. U.S. Communities aggregates the purchasing power of more than 90,000 public agencies nationwide by offering Participating Public Agencies the ability to make purchases through existing, competitively solicited contracts between a supplier and a lead public agency.
Each lead public agency awards its contract to a supplier after a competitive solicitation process designed to ensure that Participating Public Agencies receive the highest quality products and services at the lowest possible prices. Once the lead public agency has awarded a contract with the supplier, the lead public agency allows other Participating Public Agencies in need of similar products and services to make purchases through the existing contract through U.S. Communities. This ensures that all Participating Public Agencies have access to the same terms and conditions of the existing competitively solicited contract.
U.S. Communities does not issue the solicitation for the contracts or participate in the bid selection process with suppliers. However, once the contract is in place it works with both the lead public agency and the supplier to ensure that the contract is administered properly through routine audits as well as additional oversight measures to ensure Participating Public Agencies are receiving the quality products and services of the highest quality and at the lowest prices.
While Roach said any government agency in the U.S. can legally use U.S. Communities, he is troubled the city did not solicit its bids in local publi cations.
Instead, the city partnered with Harford School District, located north of Baltimore, Md., for both of the air conditioning projects, he said. Harford advertised bids for its air conditioning contract in the Hawaii Tribune Herald in Hilo, Hawaii seven times from June 18-25, and in the Daily Journal of Commerce (DJC) in Portland, Oregon, for seven times in 2015 (June 17, June 22, June 24, June 26, June 29 and July 1). The DJC provides the most comprehensive resources and reporting on the Portland, Oregon building and construction market. DJC, according to its website, is the premier source of public notice information, including call for bid notices and real estate foreclosure listings.
Graham said if the city would have went with a local builder to replace the air conditioning units at city hall, the price might have been $100,000 higher if they awarded the project to a local contractor.
He said the city's use of U.S. Communities “is not a big deal.”
Chris Lugge, vice president of Bel-O, questioned on Thursday why his business wasn't even given a chance to bid on the project. He said Bel-O has been in O’Fallon for over 57 years.
Lugge doesn’t ever recall seeing a bid solicitation for the air conditioning units at city hall and the public safety building.
“That kind of surprised me because the city likes to use us fairly often," he said. “I'd think they would want to at least solicit us local contractors (for projects) like this.”
Even though Bel-O is a Carrier supplier, Lugge said his business has access to Trane.
“We install Trane equipment all of the time,” he said.
Lugge cited Bel-O's installation of Trane equipment at Belle Valley School District in Belleville as an example.
“You don't have to be a dealer to get the equipment in any shape or form,” he added.
Lugge said the pricing for the equipment should be the same for Bel-O as it is with anyone else.
“You would have thought the city would have given us a shot at (the public safety building and city hall air conditioning contracts), especially since we are a local business, paying taxes,” he said.
O’Fallon City Administrator Walter Denton said the city uses U.S. Communities when there are not any local vendors.
“That was the issue with Trane,” he said. “To our knowledge, there is not any one local that sells Trane products. We got the Trane price through the national bid. The closest vendor to supply us this equipment is in Fenton, Mo. There are O'Fallon companies that do HVAC, but they do not do Trane.”
He added that the Park’s and Recreation Department earlier used U.S. Communities, when it purchased baseball field lighting
Denton said there are several different organizations like U.S. Communities, the city uses. He said the state government offers a similar program every year where they take bids on equipment and vehicles. The city is then able to buy off the state government’s bid list so the city does not have to go out for bids for such things like a patrol car, he said.
There are other national purchasing groups, like the General Service Administration (GSA) who have a big bid list for the federal government which the city can purchase items off of that list without going for bids, he said. GSA's acquisition solutions offer private sector professional services, equipment, supplies, and IT to government organizations and the military. GSA also promotes management best practices and efficient government operations through the development of governmentwide policies.
The city, however, did award a local HVAC bid on April 4, when it awarded Bel-O the $10,986 bid for HVAC for State Street Water Tower communication's shed. Bel-O was $236 higher than Trane bid through U.S. Communities.
But unlike city hall or the public safety building, it did not matter what type of an air conditioning unit was installed in the communication’s shed, Denton said.
According to U.S. Communities website, their purchasing cooperative offers:
▪ No user fees, or costs or fees to participate;
▪ Best overall supplier government pricing by combining the potential cooperative purchasing power of up to 90,000 public agencies, you are able to access the best overall supplier government pricing;
▪ Quality brands. U.S. Companies says it has thousands of the best brands in a wide variety of categories, services and solutions; and
▪ Integrity and experience. Unlike other government cooperative purchasing organizations, U.S. Communities national government purchasing cooperative is founded by four national sponsors and over 90 state, city and regional organizations.
Mark Hodapp: 618-239-2688