Coun. Dan Boyd during a meeting in November 2017. At the March 18 council meeting, Boyd said council’s procurement policy reviews should be sped up to help local businesses be more successful when bidding on municipal contracts. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Bedding plant contract seeds controversy around city procurement

Contract went to Outside company over a $250 bidding difference

A contract for the supply and delivery of bedding plants for the City of Whitehorse has caused a stir among some council members who would like to see discussions — and possible changes — to the city’s procurement policies happen faster.

As the Whitehorse Star recently reported, Fay Branigan, owner of the Greenhouse At Cliffside in Whitehorse, recently lost a bid to provide the city with bedding plants to Abbottsford B.C.’s Devan Greenhouses Ltd. The Outside company’s bid of $14,574.38 was $250 lower than the local bid.

“This is an unfortunate case where we’ve seen a contract … go out of the Yukon,” said Coun. Dan Boyd at the March 18 standing committees meeting.

Council has been reviewing its procurement policies with an eye to changes for the last “eight or nine months” he said.

Boyd said he would like to see if there was “a will” to move things forward more quickly and perhaps make some “low-hanging fruit” improvements to help local businesses be more successful on bidding on municipal contracts while the city works towards “a large and rather more wholesome review.”

“I’m concerned we could continue to have these types of outcomes while we continue to work on the policy and it could take some time before we see some policy amendments come forward,” he said.

“There has been an awful lot of comments and discussion about this tender process,” Mayor Dan Curtis said, adding that the new city operations building — the largest project the city has ever undertaken — is to be built by a local company.

It’s council’s responsibility to use taxpayer dollars to their fullest efficiency and the city “can’t have it both ways” he noted. The city can’t always have the lowest bidder while giving local companies preferential treatment and “carte blanche” to charge whatever they want.

“I think a competitive tendering process is important,” he said.

“I hope we don’t rush this because of some bedding plants.”

Myles Dolphin, spokesperson for the city, said via email that when it comes to procurement for the municipality, “it’s not ‘always’ (the) lowest bid, it depends on what we are looking to procure.”

“For Requests for Quotations (RFQs) and Requests for Tender (RFTs) (the city) always (uses the) lowest compliant bid,” he said.

“Where we know exactly what we want, where we want it and when we want it, it’s price driven. This create value and savings through a competitively driven process.

“Requests for Proposal (RFPs) are also issued and are a combination of company experience and methodology and price; sometimes 70/30 or 80/20 respectively, with a local component,” he said.

This city’s system is not that different from the one used by the territorial government, although that system is necessarily more nuanced.

Similar to the municipal process, if the Yukon government wants a standard service or product — like getting sand or gravel for a construction product — the lowest bidder takes the contract in a Yukon government bid, Katy Mead, communications spokesperson for the department of highways and public works procurement division told the News.

“When it’s pretty standard and everyone could give us essentially the same product,” the government uses this basic cost-driven tendering system, she said.

Sometimes, however, the government is looking for “a solution to a problem” said Mead, and so they open up the floor to bidders with a “value driven” system that is weighted to consider things like their technical experience, the feasibility of their proposal and its cost. The government then sort of window-shops the plans, choosing the ones it finds the most attractive, before they even look at the price tag, she said.

At that stage, price “could change the ranking,” of a project, “but it doesn’t always change the ranking,” she noted.

During this process, points are also awarded for things like plans for First Nations partnership and northern experience, things Yukon bidders are more likely to have over Outside bidders. How much those parts of a project are worth changes from project to project, she said.

There are “thresholds” which determine what kind of projects are open to what kind of bidders. The current thresholds are changing with updates to the territorial procurement policy which are set to happen April 1.

One of these thresholds, called “invitational,” applies to projects which are less than $25,000 for goods and less than $100,000 for services; these projects are open to bids from Yukon companies and only open to Outside bids if fewer than three local companies apply.

In the case of the bedding plants — an issue Curtis noted he felt had “gone nuclear” — Dolphin said the, “evaluation was lowest compliant bid — simple. The process has to be fair for all bidders and we can’t change the rules once we see the price.”

Council will meet with the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce for a quarterly meeting March 27 and a procurement policy review is scheduled for April 5.

“There’s no set timeline for any changes. Typically administration waits to be directed by Council,” Dolphin said.

Boyd made an official notice of motion regarding speeding up potential discussions and changes to the procurement policy, and so council will “pick up” the matter again next week at the March 25 regular council meeting, he said.

Contact Lori Fox at lori.fox@yukon-news.com

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