Auburn purchasing policy gets council scrutiny

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AUBURN — City councilors may favor tightening a purchasing policy approved last fall that lets employees make purchases of up to $49,000 without a formal bid process.

“This is just a policy created by city staff, so we can just change it,” Councilor Joshua Shea said.

The city adopted a policy last fall that set different purchasing standards depending on the cost.

Small items, costing less than $3,000, could be approved by department heads. Medium items, costing between $3,000 and $49,000 required departments to get at least three bids and prior approval from the city’s finance manager.

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That’s too much money, according to Ward 5 Councilor Leroy Walker.

“Maybe it should be $20,000, but more than that I think we need more control,” Walker said.

Large purchases of $50,000 or more require a much more formal bidding process. Department managers need to draw up the bid, which is monitored by the Finance Department with the lowest price winning. Single-source bids are allowed, but only when the good or service is unique. If the bid goes to someone other than the person with the lowest price, the department manager needs to explain the reasoning behind that decision in writing.

Mayor Jonathan LaBonte said he knows that some residents were worried about plans to purchase a new firetruck to replace New Auburn’s pumper No. 2. That purchase will go out to bid, LaBonte said.

But LaBonte said he was concerned they were not involved in those smaller spending decisions.

“My concern is that this was done as a edict of the last manager, in violation of the Charter,” LaBonte said.

LaBonte said he also had some questions about another part of the policy that spells out how department managers can use city-issued Visa purchase cards for items or services that cost less than $1,000.

Finance Director Jill Eastman said the cards are interest free and all balances are paid each month.

“They are limited to certain stores, depending on what department they are from,” she said. “It’s like a credit card, with a $1,000 limit. They code their invoices for us and submit their receipts and each purchase is reviewed.”

Eastman said the policy was adopted before she became finance director, but said the card policy was used to replace a purchasing agent position. That job was eliminated two years ago.

“And, when you see my proposed budget for next year, you’ll see that I’m asking for that position to be reinstated,” Eastman said.

Interim City Manager Don Gerrish said that makes sense.

“For a community this size, it’s beneficial having that person in that position looking over what the city is spending,” Gerrish said. “I think you’ll save money in the long run.”

staylor@sunjournal.com

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