CLEARWATER — Pinellas County will start giving Tampa Bay area businesses a leg up on certain contracts.
The County Commission voted 5-1 on Tuesday night to give companies based in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Manatee counties a 5 percent edge in contracts for professional services, such as architecture. Companies' proposals will be graded on a 1,000-point scale. Regional firms can get 50 bonus points.
Traditional low-bid contracts for materials and construction will not be included.
The vote ended a debate that began in the summer about whether to favor area businesses.
County Administrator Bob LaSala and purchasing officials warned against creating a local preference on contracts. It could cause a balkanization in contracting that would raise prices on taxpayers, LaSala said this fall. Some contracting groups opposed it, saying such ordinances are ineffective.
But on Tuesday LaSala said the policy was workable because it includes firms beyond Pinellas' borders, instead of giving county firms even greater advantage as once proposed.
"That doesn't single out firms operating in Pinellas to the detriment of firms in the Tampa Bay region," LaSala said.
The new policy sprung from a broader dispute last year over how the county awards contracts. A contract to design an $81 million public safety complex was shot down over questions about how county officials rated architecture firms' proposals, and allegations of improper lobbying.
The new ordinance also automatically disqualifies companies that lobby in violation of county code, instead of it being a possible sanction.
County Commission Chairwoman Karen Seel said the changes improve contracting. Commissioner Neil Brickfield voted against the measure. He said the ordinance makes it tougher on smaller firms to get county business compared to larger companies.
David DeCamp can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8779.