Seabrook Officials Eye New Purchasing Policy

May 14--SEABROOK -- When it comes to public spending, it's important to be cost conscious and get the best bang for every taxpayer dollar.

In pursuit of that theme, town officials are soon expected to approve a major overhaul of the town's purchasing policy, with the goal of saving what Town Manager Bill Manzi believes will be a "significant" amount of money.

Manzi has proposed, and selectmen are currently reviewing, the 12-page document that will determine how everything is purchased with town monies.

Manzi is not only proposing new rules on how the town buys its goods and services, but also who buys them. He's proposing the town use an in-house purchasing agent, instead of department heads and other town personnel individually buying supplies and items, which is the current practice.

In Seabrook, purchases currently aren't required to go out in a competitive bidding process until the amount is expected to exceed $25,000.

The high threshold allows purchases without use of bids for most supplies and equipment, other than vehicles and big-ticket items. Presently, the town of Seabrook too often ends up paying retail for needed items under that limit, Manzi said, and paying retail is something a public entity should never do.

"At the end of the day -- even for small items -- if you have a purchasing relationship with a provider, you should pay less than retail because of all the business (a town) does with the company," Manzi said. "The town should always pay less than the average consumer."

The concept of centralized purchasing is one that Manzi brought to the table when he became town manager last summer. The idea has impressed the selectmen, according to Selectman Aboul Khan.

"When a new town manager comes, he brings 20 new things with him," Khan said recently. "The board takes some and rejects others. But this, right away it was a big thing for the board."

Manzi said it's hard to quantify this early in the game how much of the town's $20 million budget could be saved by centralizing purchasing and adhering to a tight bid policy. The new procurement policy would extend beyond money spent from the town's operating budget, he said, to purchases made with grant money, as well as those made from the police department's special D'Alessandro fund.

"The savings would be a lot," Manzi said. "I'd say between $200,000 and $500,000 a year. That's substantial."

Manzi knows that department heads have loyal and favorite vendors who've given them good prices and service for years, and come through in emergencies. The new policy doesn't wipe out those relationships, he said, it just keeps everyone on their toes, and sharpening their pencils when written bids are requested.

He also believes through this consolidation, the town can get lower prices buying in bulk for the same items all departments use, but now purchase separately in small quantities, such as paper and office supplies.

Manzi plans on having a bid page on the town's website, allowing anyone to review the town's bid requests. That will foster an open, transparent and fair process that will benefit taxpayers, Manzi said.

But, department heads will continue to run their departments and determine what's needed, he said.

"We're not going to tell the department heads what they need; they're still going to tell us," Manzi said. "But we'll go out and get it for them."

Manzi doesn't expect to hire a purchasing agent, but will utilize current staff to do the buying, he said.

In addition to a new purchasing policy, Manzi is reviewing the town policy that stipulates how and when employees can use the town's credit cards, as well as how surplus town property is listed, handled and disposed. For example, Manzi said, a town should inventory all its capital assets annually to understand their condition and especially to make sure everything is still there.

Next Monday's agenda will include a discussion of the draft of the new purchasing policy Manzi has proposed, he said. At the meeting, more changes could be proposed, or selectmen could approve it.

Copyright 2014 - The Daily News of Newburyport, Mass.

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