Online service helps county manage bids
Like many local government employees, the purchasing agent in Taney County, Mo., juggles several projects. Along with the county’s purchases, Tressa Luttrell handles the county’s drug screening and several other programs. When two new county commissioners arrived in January, they suggested that the Internet could help simplify Luttrell’s tasks.
Luttrell used to spend much of her time tracking down specifications, looking through phone books and old bid documents, and gathering paper bids. That process left her limited time to do anything else. After hearing about online purchasing at a conference, County Commissioners Ron Herschend and Don Swan discussed the process with other commissioners and decided that online purchasing would help reduce Luttrell’s workload.
In February, Taney County contracted with Springfield, Mo.-based Way2Bid. Using the online service, Luttrell invites vendors to bid, receives their responses, automatically tallies the results and, once the bidding is closed, posts the bids to the Internet for the public to view.
As part of its registration agreement, the company contacted all of the county’s vendors and registered them on the system, allowing the county to continue doing business with its established vendors. The county did not pay to register on the system, and it could use its existing computers and Internet connections to access the service.
The immediacy of the online service appealed to the county, but Luttrell was still a little nervous. “When I did our first bid, it scared me to death,” Luttrell says. “I wasn’t exactly sure what I was doing, but it was really easy to use. Since then, I’ve gotten to know the system better and how it works. Everything’s been running very smoothly, and it really is saving a lot of time.”
Since beginning its online purchasing process, Taney County has gathered bids for services, materials and equipment, including trash services, oil, gravel, culverts, guardrails and a chip spreader. It also has received bids for mobile radio units, including radio equipment and the costs for service and installation.
An upcoming $21 million construction project for the jail and sheriff’s department will present Luttrell with a big project, but she is not overwhelmed. “I’m excited about being able to do all of that purchasing online,” she says. “It’s going to make it easier to go out for bids on all the furniture and office equipment.”
The move to online purchasing has not been without its challenges, however. Vendors are responsible for paying transaction fees to use the system, and a handful of Taney County’s vendors have expressed concern about paying that fee. Although the county assured them that the bid could reflect the transaction fee, a few vendors have decided not to join the system.
“That’s the one thing I would have done differently,” Luttrell says. “I probably would have held an open meeting for all our vendors to explain the process to them. Maybe then they would have been more comfortable with it. The system has worked fine, but it’s not easy getting vendors to use computers instead of paper.”
Despite those challenges, the county plans to move the majority of its purchasing online in the future. It is considering providing a computer and Internet access in its offices for vendors who are not yet online.
“The system has been a very good tool to have in meeting the day-to-day needs of office management,” Herschend says. “The unexpected benefit of [the system] was to create a truly national vendor list. We have received bids from companies we never knew were out there. The more vendors we have to bid on our needs, the better price we can secure for our citizens.”