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Legislative direction may prompt change in Travis purchasing

Monday, July 27, 2009 by Jacob Cottingham

Travis County Commissioners will consider a measure this week that, thanks to the Texas Legislature, could cut their weekly workload by a considerable amount. A change in state law expands the cost of purchases county staff can authorize that don’t require an approval by commissioners.


Last week, County Purchasing Agent Cyd Grimes briefed commissioners on proposed changes to the county’s purchasing policy and procedure manual. House Bill 987, signed by Governor Rick Perry in June, provided the impetus for this probable revision. Grimes wrote the purchasing manual when she first began working with the county in the early 1990s and it was last revised in 2006.


It increases the amount that can be spent before requiring what’s known as a competitive procurement. The law went into effect June 22, and increases the amount from $25,000 to $50,000. Grimes said her office would continue to “get three informal quotes, which we are now doing over our third party administrator ‘Bid Sync,’ ” an online bidding software. The law still requires oversight of purchases smaller than $50,000. “Anything under the competitive bidding limit the agent has to have policies in place that still ensures competition,” Grimes said.


Another proposed change would increase local autonomy by allowing the purchasing agent and court to “determine when to use best-value procurement in lieu of just a straight bid.” Legislation authorized in 2007 allowed for Travis County to exercise such discretion but Grimes said, “we really haven’t used or implemented,” the change.


“Best Interest” procurement processes allow for a purchasing entity, such as the county, to base its final selection on criteria other than price. Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department is contemplating using such a method to find an arborist for the Barton Springs trees. “Best value emphasizes value of a price and allow us to look at the total life services,” Grimes told commissioners.


She is also seeking expanded authority to single-handedly amend interlocal agreements. She said this would allow her to make changes in the method of delivery or change the name of a contractor or assigning payments. ”If you’ll recall, I guess it was back in ’06 when we revised this — y’all  gave me that authority on contracts – and it cut in half the number of items that we were bringing to Commissioners Court,” Grimes said.


The new rules also make a nod to the environment, with language that Grimes said, “just reemphasizes our commitment to buying environmentally safe products,” and services.


The Purchasing Office is also proposing that they tweak their Historically Underutilized Business (HUB) goals. The City of Austin conducted a study in May of 2008, which resulted in new HUB proportions. The county would merely follow the city’s lead while still ensuring that they would begin a position to accept state or federal money, which sometimes comes with HUB requirements. The goals would shift a few fractions of a percent.


The county’s legal department will look over all the proposed changes and the court will likely take action on Tuesday.

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