BROOKSVILLE — County commissioners anxious to see Hernando County residents find work committed to a new policy on Tuesday that would favor giving some county jobs to local companies first.
And they implemented the policy by rejecting recent engineering proposals to design a stormwater park for environmentally sensitive Peck Sink, which had become Exhibit A for those looking to steer county contracts to local employers.
Fourteen firms submitted proposals to collect data, plan, design and seek permitting for a preserve area to include a stormwater park and passive recreation. In September, a review team narrowed the list to three: A Civil Design Group LLC, King Engineering Associates Inc. and Wade Trim Inc.
In October, the review team interviewed the firms and ranked them. King Engineering, which has offices in Tampa and elsewhere in Florida, was on top.
The initial vote had both King Engineering and A Civil Design Group, which is a local firm, tied for first. When the county's tie-breaking method was applied, King Engineering got more number one votes.
"Your tie-breaker is inherently unfair,'' said Commissioner Jeff Stabins, explaining that the initial vote determines both the first ranking and the second.
Commissioner John Druzbick said that, while he appreciated that the county followed its existing policy, he wanted to see the policy changed. He suggested that when the county is ranking proposals and two end up in a tie, if one is local and one is not, the local firm should get the nod.
The county already gives special consideration to local companies when the bids are to provide goods or services and the companies tie on price. Proposals for services such as engineering or mapping follow a different process under state law, Jim Gantt, director of purchasing explained.
County attorney Garth Coller said the idea of granting special consideration to local firms was also a dicey legal subject.
Coller added that he did not think Druzbick's proposal went too far, though. When governments make the local provider preference "central to the process,'' then it becomes a legal problem, he said.
Commissioner Dave Russell suggested tabling the approval of an engineering firm for the Peck Sink project.
Acting commission Chairwoman Rose Rocco questioned whether the county could lose state grants needed to improve Peck Sink if they delay the project and fail to meet deadlines.
Construction must be done by November 2011, planning director Ron Pianta explained, and the county already is behind on its timeline. If the proposals were tabled, that would be compounded. He urged that it would be better to approve or not approve, and then the county can at least seek new proposals if the old ones were discarded.
Gantt agreed. He said that any firm that decided to challenge the county's decision to throw out all proposals would likely challenge no matter what the commission did.
Russell withdrew his suggestion to table and then commissioners voted 4 to 1 to reject the proposals, with Rocco casting the sole no vote.
Later in the meeting, she joined the rest of the commission in supporting the development of a new tie-breaking provision when the county seeks formal proposals and two competitors tie. If the choice is between a local company and an out-of-town firm, the local connection would win.
The board heard a similar issue later on Tuesday. Michael Burmann, who had worked with a state home storm-preparedness program, asked why Hernando last month approved having a south Florida firm provide wind screening for the county's Department of Public Works building.
Local companies, he said, could have done the work at a far lower price. Gantt responded that the project was openly advertised and no local business submitted a bid.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.