News

The buck doesn't stop here

Island County recently purchased four new vehicles, for a total of $73,887. The city of Oak Harbor will soon take ownership of seven new vehicles totalling close to $143,000. None of that money was spent on the island, including thousands of dollars in sales tax.

Government vehicles are normally purchased from dealers on the state contract list, who have submitted the lowest bids. Agencies in need of new cars and trucks simply choose what they need from the list, knowing it will be the lowest price.

But, that often leaves local dealers out in the cold, a fact the county commissioners tried to address last year by opening the bid process to car dealers on the island.

Last year no local dealers submitted bids. This year only Whidbey Island Ford joined in, but Bill Oakes, county Public Works director, said the Oak Harbor dealer’s bids were higher than the state offerings.

From the standpoint of an agency charged with caretaking public funds, Oakes said it didn’t make sense to pay a higher price just to shop locally.

The county purchased a Ford Taurus from Harris Ford in Lynnwood for $13,683, Frontier Ford in Anacortes was the source for a Ford F-250 4x4 pickup for $22,878, and two Chevrolet Colorado 4x4 pickups were purchased from Bud Clary Chevrolet in Longview for $37,326. The sales tax on those vehicles alone totals $5,587.

Whidbey Island Ford bid $25,346 for the F-250, and $22,793 for a Ford Crown Victoria sedan. The county purchased the F-250 from the Anacortes dealer for $22,878, and the Ford Taurus from the Lynnwood dealer for $13,683.

Bill Byrd, president of the board of commissioners, said the county is required to accept the lowest bid, but realizes that can be a hardship for local dealers.

He said the county would be willing to accept a bid from an Island County dealership if it was in the ballpark.

“We will try to offer that opportunity,” he said. “If they can match or even come close, we will try to do business with them.”

Byrd said the heart of the issue is the mission to give local people more business, and keep tax dollars here.

Dean Smith, new car manager for Frontier Chevrolet Pontiac, was amenable to the county’s offer.

“I believe the profit margins would be lower, but it could be done,” he said.

He understands why local governments want the best deal, but said they could also weigh the fact that purchasing locally could be a better deal in terms of gains to the community.

Oak Harbor Director of Public Works, Cathy Rosen, said it would cost the city thousands of dollars to go through the formal bidding process in order to include local dealers.

“We have to consider if that’s the best use of taxpayers’ money,” she said.

She also noted that local dealers have the opportunity to bid on the state contract, just like any other dealer in the state, and that city officials met with local dealers last year to explain the bidding process to them.

“We have … explained to the local vendors that they too can bid on the state contracts, and in so doing, increase the tax base for the city of Oak Harbor,” Rosen wrote in a proposal to the city council March 16.

The city’s most recent vehicle purchases total $170,650, with again Bud Clary Chevrolet in Longview and Frontier Ford in Anacortes as the vendors.

The city bought five trucks from the Longview dealer: two Chevrolet Siverados for approximately $17,650 each, a Chevrolet Colorado for $15,850 and two Chevrolet Tahoes for the fire department for $62,953.

That sale totals $114,183, of which $8,360 is sales tax.

The city also purchased two trucks from Frontier Ford for a total of $56,466, with $4,279 of that in taxes.

Rosen said the city has purchased several used vehicles from local dealers, as anything under $15,000 doesn’t have to go through the state contract or bid process.

Oakes said the county will keep up its effort to do business with local dealers.

“We will continue to put bids out locally,” he said.

You can reach News-Times reporter Marcie Miller at mmiller@whidbeynews

times.com or call 675-6611

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