New legislation to change how Supes purchase goods

By BUSTER WOLFE,

Government entities in the state will be paying a service fee every time they want to buy anything not related to construction or professional services, State Auditor Stacey Pickering told the Lamar County Board of Supervisors last week.

Pickering spoke to the Supervisors last Thursday to tell them that legislation set to go into effect Jan. 1, 2018, requires governmental bodies to use a reverse auction process to acquire goods.

In a reverse auction, the Supervisors would request an item to purchase. Vendors then place bids for the amount they are willing to be paid for the item. At the end of the auction, the vendor with the lowest amount wins.

However, the Supervisors would be responsible for the extra cost of overseeing the process, which Pickering said usually amounts to about 3 or 4 percent of the purchase price.

“There are a lot of questions at the local government of who pays for that auction,” he said. “There are companies running all over the state meeting with boards, cities, school districts saying it’s not going to cost you a dime. That’s the way it went through the Legislature, that it wasn’t going to cost our local governments. Unfortunately, that’s not the case as often happens in the Legislature.”

Because the process is usually handled by a reverse auction company, the county will have to pay whatever fees are in the contract negotiated with the company.

“Under state law and existing Attorney General opinions dating back to 1984, vendors cannot be charge any fee because it encumbers their competition,” Pickering said. “And we don’t want to close the door on anybody having access to do business with our local governments, state government or state agencies.”

The state is not affected the same as local counties and governments because a software system is set up to handle the state’s purchases, Pickering said.

“We are working with the Mississippi Cooperative Extension Service at Mississippi State to work through the legalities and financials, trying to set up a system that you can use at little or no cost,” he said. “That won’t be able until the end of January or February. The law goes into effect in January, so any purchases are going to have to comply with the law come January.

“You will not only have to satisfy the mandate of the law, our local governments are going to have to pay the cost. You can’t pass that on the vendor, it can’t be in the bid, you cannot charge everybody a flat fee to participate in a bid; it has to be open for all vendors to participate without any encumbrance.”

Pickering said Attorney General Jim Hood ruled recently on the legislation.

“The Attorney General’s opinion is fresh out of the gate this week and it lays out from 1984 to current that it is very consistent under state law and how the laws have been applied in Mississippi,” Pickering said. “So we will begin implementing that law in January.”

The Attorney General’s opinion protects the Supervisors, Pickering said.

“As long as you comply with this opinion and apply the law, you’ll protect the board of Lamar County citizens,” he said. “Unfortunately, this changes the way we do business. Good, bad or indifferent, this just changes things. Anytime you have change of this nature, it’s a headache. We are the only state in the nation where this is mandated across the board.”

County Administrator Joseph “Jodie” Waits said the county is working toward contracting with a firm on an annual basis to get the lowest price possible on reverse auction fees.