Rochester charter amendment proposal focuses on purchasing

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published October 9, 2018

ROCHESTER — On Nov. 6, voters in Rochester will be asked to weigh in on a proposed amendment to the city charter.

The proposal asks voters if the charter can be amended to remove specific expenditure thresholds and purchasing procedures, and instead have them be set by ordinance.

The charter currently states that all city expenditures for supplies, materials, equipment and contractual services involving more than $2,000 should be made on written contracts and awarded to the lowest responsible bidder after public notice and a competitive bidding process, as set forth by ordinance. The charter also notes that the City Council has the power to reject all bids.

“Instead of giving the authority to council to set the purchasing limits, it actually has a dollar amount in there, which is $2,000,” City Manager Blaine Wing said.

“When talking with department heads, that $2,000 limit before they would have to go through a bidding process is just deemed to be unworkable,” City Attorney Jeffrey Kragt added.

Last November, the Rochester City Council passed an ordinance that increased the city’s purchasing threshold from $2,000 to $15,000. The ordinance maintains that the city receive at least three competitive bids and award the item to the lowest competent bidder.

“How council came to that number was they took the $2,000 amount and they used the U.S. inflationary table — which ended up being $14,800 and change — and they just rounded it up to $15,000,” said Wing.

The $2,000 purchasing threshold currently in the city charter was set in 1967, according to Wing.

“If you bring that forward to present day, with the inflation, it brings that up to almost $15,000,” Wing said. “It’s a challenge to be able to purchase with the restrictions of 1967 in this modern time.”

Because the city charter already allows that policy to be set by ordinance, the city is already operating under the updated ordinance through its new financial software.

The city is seeking to amend the city charter so the purchasing threshold limit can be adjusted by ordinance in the future and will not hold future city operations to what officials say is an impractical and outdated standard.

“Much like we have done with other ordinances, when you put specific dollar limits, such as fees or these types of limits, it does take a much greater effort to change those,” Kragt explained. “The intent is to more streamline the ability for City Council to give direction to administration on what they can and can’t do, and how they have to bid and get pricing.”

The proposed charter amendment states, “Before making any purchase or contract for supplies, materials, equipment or contractual services, opportunity shall be given for competition, under such rules and regulations, and with such exceptions, as the council has adopted by ordinance.”

The amendment, Kragt said, was reviewed by the Governor’s Office and the state Attorney General’s Office and was approved as being consistent with the Home Rule City Act for placement on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Amending the city’s purchasing thresholds by way of ordinance is a much easier process than amending the charter each time, according to Kragt.

A charter amendment, which must be approved by a vote of city residents, can take up to seven months to prepare. Before being placed on a ballot, Kragt said, the language must first be reviewed and approved by the governor, the Attorney General’s Office and the City Council.

An ordinance amendment, which Kragt said takes approximately one month to pass, must be approved by the City Council. Proposed ordinance amendments are considered by the City Council at a minimum of two council meetings — initially as an agenda item for a first reading and introduction, and then during a second meeting for a second reading and possible adoption. Once approved by the council, Kragt said, the ordinance amendment must be published by a newspaper before it goes into effect.

For more information on the ballot proposal, visit  www.rochestermi.org/elections.