—A county acquisition rule established just a few years ago that gave local businesses the edge over outside companies on lucrative contracts has been repealed after the Commissioners of St. Mary's County determined that it had not given the benefits to local businesses once envisioned.
The preferential policy gave local businesses points towards their winning a county contract even if they were 10 percent over the low bid.
Brandon Hayden, a senior acquisition manager with the county, said that the county still had a significant amount of local businesses doing work for the county and did not expect them to fall away without the local vendor preference.
"There are 260 contracts with the county and about half are with local businesses," Hayden said. "Most business is done with local contractors.
"I don't see that changing."
In the past several years only a handful of local contractors had taken advantage of the policy, according to county information, and it had cost the county tens of thousands of dollars in the interim to go with contracts that were not the low bid.
"We tried this," said Commissioner Tom Jarboe. "It really hasn't had much of an impact."
He said the repeal would ensure competitiveness, while keeping it might only encourage other jurisdictions to enact their own policies that could punish St. Mary's businesses trying to bid on contracts there.
The commissioners also stopped short of repealing the county's annual growth policy, enacted back in 2008 to curb rapid housing growth but almost as quickly relegated to insignificance because of the subsequent economic downturn.
The policy allowed for a 1.9 percent growth rate of about 800 new homes a year but the cap was never tested anywhere near that limit.
Phil Shire, head of the Department of Land Use and Growth Management, said that housing growth remained slow.
"We're seeing 60 to 90 lots a year," Shire said. "And we've actually deplatted more lots than that this past year."
Commissioner Mike Hewitt questioned the wisdom of doing away with the policy, since if the housing boom ever reasserted itself the policy might become useful.
"What's wrong with keeping it if we're already under the limit," Hewitt said.
Commissioner John O'Connor raised the idea of simply suspending the policy indefinitely, questioning whether having the policy itself could deter future business growth here.
Commissioners agreed to indefinitely suspend the policy.
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