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Chris Graham: Willingly spending too much

That’s what Waynesboro City Council is about to do. Again.

Monday night, City Council is set to vote on a proposed $50,000 appropriation ordinance related to the development of a city economic-development website and associated marketing materials.

I know personally that the city could save at least $14,000 on the project. I know because my company, Augusta Free Press LLC, submitted a bid to do the work that was $14,000 below the bid approved by the city.

Atlas Advertising, based in Denver, Colo., was awarded the project after submitting a $30,750 bid to do the work, which encompasses the development of a city economic-development website, a mobile version of that website, an eight-page brochure and four information sheets.

If that sounds like a lot of money for that kind of work, it is. Augusta Free Press LLC bid $16,100 to do the project.

Breaking down the winning bid and the unsuccessful AFP bid:

– Atlas is charging the city $5,000 to develop advertising concepts related to the project. AFP estimated $375 for this work.

– Overall, Atlas is charging the city $17,750 for the ad concepts, three four-color ads based on those concepts, the eight-page brochure, four information sheets. AFP bid $4,275 to do this work.

– Atlas is charging the city $12,500 to develop the website and the mobile version of the website. AFP bid $5,250 to do this part of the project.

– Atlas has suggested a $5,000, two-day “immersion trip” to Waynesboro to acclimate its staff in advance of the work. AFP did not include travel in its bid; we live here!

I exchanged several e-mails with a city administrator in the process of trying to obtain a copy of the Atlas bid, and in the process was told that local governments are by and large bound to go with the low bidder on projects involving the delivery of run-of-the-mill goods and services, but in the area of professional and creative services, there is a “complicated matrix” guiding decisions in which cost is just one factor.

The implication there: Sorry, AFP, you’re just not good enough.

I’m prepared to hear our mayor, the rest of City Council, the folks in the city manager’s and ED offices and others talk me down in that respect as they are asked to defend the move to overspend on this project.

I’m a big boy. I can take it.

I don’t bring this to folks’ attention because I feel bad that I lost out on the chance to make another $16,000. Like everybody else, I like making more money, but AFP has been blessed of late with more than enough business to keep us busy for at least the next few months.

My issue here is that I absolutely know that city taxpayers are getting royally screwed on this deal. For starters, I’m not aware of what other bids were submitted for this work, and that mine was even the lowest bid. It may very well be that taxpayers could have gotten an even better deal from another bidder.

I do know this: AFP didn’t even make the cut for interviews for finalists out of the original set of bids.

Which is to say, a local company that has developed more than 100 websites, with clients including an entertainment company that puts on international live-TV events to the local YMCA and the Valley Program for Aging Services and local businesses and industries small-, medium- and large-sized all, couldn’t even get a sniff on a project in its hometown by submitting a bid that was almost half of what the ultimate winning bid ended up being.

The city administrator with whom I traded e-mails on this topic told me that procurement laws prevent local governments from showing bias toward hometown businesses in awarding goverment contracts. Apparently the City of Waynesboro takes that to also mean that our local government should show bias against hometown businesses in awarding contracts.

I do have a suggestion for how we can change this backwards way of thinking pervading city government – fire everybody that works in City Hall and 301 W. Main St. and start over with people who have the common sense to take the low bid from qualifed local companies.

In the meantime, I wish Atlas the best of luck with that $5,000 immersion trip. It won’t take two minutes to learn how bass-ackwards we do things around here.

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