TAMPA — Hillsborough County is revisiting an idea it has rejected before.
County commissioners unanimously agreed Wednesday to explore creating an ordinance giving preference to area businesses when the county buys goods and services.
Unlike in years' past when the idea has been suggested, Commissioner Les Miller, who is pushing the notion now, recommended that the county adopt a regional — not just local — approach.
"It's going to put people to work in our county and surrounding counties," Miller said.
In the past, commissioners have explored showing a preference to Hillsborough County businesses seeking to do work for government to boost the local economy. But aside from potentially driving up costs for government contracts, opponents say such favoritism can prompt other governments to enact similar rules that make it harder for Hillsborough businesses to land contracts elsewhere.
Commissioner Ken Hagan suggested a preference ordinance just two years ago but acknowledged "it died on the vine."
The difference with Miller's approach: It would also give favorable treatment to businesses in Pasco, Pinellas, Polk and Manatee counties.
Miller suggested following the lead of Manatee County, which has its own ordinance. As he characterized it, it doesn't simply weight bids in favor of local businesses. Rather, if a local business was a runnerup on cost, it would be allowed the opportunity to match the lowest bidder.
The opportunity would be given only if the regional business submitted an original offer close to the low bid, a margin-based requirement that would narrow with higher-cost contracts.
For instance, a local company might be allowed to match an offer from an outside business pitching to mow county ballfields for $40,000 annually if its original bid was within 5 percent of that. But to get a second chance at a $2 million contract for sewage pump station maintenance, the regional company would have had to submit a bid that was no more than 2 percent more.
Miller said the sliding scale could help small or minority-owned companies land more work with the county.
His proposal asked the county administration to come up with formal ordinance language. The wording would have to be aired at a public hearing before it could be enacted.
Bill Varian can be reached at (813) 226-3387 or firstname.lastname@example.org.