Augusta commissioners are considering an ordinance to give local businesses preference in doing business with the city.
The ordinance would give Augusta businesses a 2 percent preference -- up to a maximum of $20,000 -- for all bids other than public works projects.
But there's a catch.
The preference would be solely for determining the apparent low bidder. The actual bid amount selected would be the lowest qualified bid submitted by the nonlocal supplier who did not receive the preference.
Here's how it would work:
If an Atlanta business bid $10,000 but a local supplier bid $10,000, the local bidder would receive a preference of 2 percent, and his bid would be considered $9,800. The contract then would be offered to the local supplier, not at $9,800, but at the actual low bid amount of $10,000, according to the proposed ordinance presented to an Augusta Commission committee Thursday.
Businesses in Columbia County, North Augusta and Burke County would not be given the preference.
One drawback is that the plan could discourage nonlocal suppliers from bidding.
Another is the possibility of some businesses being only storefronts, with no employees in Augusta and telephone calls being forwarded to Atlanta or another city.
The proposal to create a local preference arose weeks ago during discussions about awarding bids for city vehicles to low bidders in the Atlanta area. Some commissioners said they thought the city needed a local-preference policy.
Shortly thereafter, they awarded a contract to an Atlanta firm to oversee $42 million worth of water and wastewater bond projects for a 4 percent fee based on total construction costs, despite warnings from Augusta Administrator Randy Oliver that total fees for the projects were higher than those traditionally charged in Augusta.
Thursday, members of the administrative committee said they wanted to talk more about the ordinance before voting on it.
Commissioner Steve Shepard said he was a "low-bid man."
"Basically, I'm in favor of accepting the low bid, the present policy," he said. "But the others wanted to talk about it, and I am willing to listen."
Commissioner Lee Beard said he didn't see anything wrong with creating a local preference, but he has questions he wants answered.
For example, he said, on Bobby Jones Expressway, businesses on one side of the street are in Richmond County and those on the other side are in Columbia County. He suggested the ordinance allow for businesses within a certain distance around Richmond County to bid.
"That would be my only concern," he said.