Williams: The County Should Shop Local

Democratic Candidate for
Los Alamos County Council

One of the most common complaints I’ve heard from local business owners is, the amount of business they’ve done with the county has drastically fallen off over the last decade. We’ve also had (well-deserved) controversies about replacing local service providers with outside contractors, thereby betraying the locals who established the service in the first place. County code contains a “preference” for shopping local, but what this actually means is that procurement staff can consider a local bid to be 5 percent lower than its non-local competitors. This obviously isn’t working, so a revision of the county procurement code is long overdue.

My understanding is that there’s been a culture shift among county staff, with greater emphasis on efficiency and cutting costs. This is great in general, but it’s also suffocating many local businesses. Likewise, whenever council broaches the possibility of direct subsidy to bolster our fragile commercial ecosystem, a lot of hay is made about the state constitution’s anti-donation clause. Buying local produces the same outcome, with the benefit of not being a donation—yet that thread never seems to get pulled very hard.

So what can we do? We’re incentivizing local purchases with a cost preference, but it’s not getting the job done. I think we should shift from incentive to obligation; after all, it’s our money, we should choose how it’s spent. For an example, the procurement code for Las Cruces states, “Unless otherwise determined impractical by the purchasing manager, bids resulting in contract(s) totaling less than $75,000.00 in the aggregate shall be awarded only to qualified local manufacturers or local businesses…” (Las Cruces Code of Ordinances, 24-91(g)).

I would like to see our county purchasing go to a three-tiered system: to the greatest extent allowed under state law, the county should look first to Los Alamos County for goods and services, second to the surrounding communities (e.g., Española, San Ildefons, Rio Arriba, Taos), and only if we can’t find what we need locally should the county shop outside our area. This will meaningfully support the small business community, while also providing economic opportunities to our neighbors, all without council having to hear yet another anti-donation lecture.