By Kate Ramunni
HAMDEN – Over the years the Legislative Council has heard criticism of its penchant for using bid waivers to purchase vehicles from Bob Thomas Ford.
But on Wednesday, it was Bob Thomas himself who complained to the council about having been shut out of a recent town purchase of four police cars that he said the town paid $830 more for than had the town purchased them from his popular dealership on Dixwell Avenue.
“I’m here speaking to you as a taxpayer who has been trying to figure our how to get this to your attention,” Thomas told the council. As a business owner who pays $70,000 a year in property tax, he doesn’t understand why the town would pay $3,320 more for the cars than it would have from him, he said.
The cities of Meriden and New Haven, the towns of Madison and North Haven and Yale University pay less than Hamden for police vehicles, Thomas said. “The reason is because you buy off the state bid list,” he said, which is a list of state-approved vendors who have submitted bids for a variety of goods and services.
Those vendors have not necessarily submitted the lowest bids, Thomas said, such as the case of the Massachusetts company on the list from which the town purchased the four police cars.
“You paid $830 more per car than you would have had you purchased them from me,” Thomas told the council. “I don’t understand why you don’t want to buy from a local dealer and pay $830 less per car.”
When he inquired about the purchase, he was told that there had been several cars involved in accidents, which precipitated the need to get them replaced quickly, Thomas said. But, he said, he discovered that one of those accidents dated back to November of last year.
Last November, Bob Thomas Ford submitted a bid for the police cars that was $1,762 per vehicle less than what the town ended up paying for them, Thomas said. In March of this year, he submitted another bid that was $1,433 less per car, and for the latest bid request, he quoted a price $830 less per car than the cost of the cars purchased from the Massachusetts company.
“I’m really confused by this,” Thomas said. “For years the town has purchased its vehicles from me, and I appreciate that,” he said. “But something has changed in the Purchasing Department.”
Council President Jim Pascarella said he doesn’t understand why the town bought the vehicles from the Massachusetts company. “When I was informed about this, I was upset with the manner with which this purchase was processed,” he said. “We purchased $160,000 worth of vehicles without the mayor being advised.”
According to the process, as long as the proper procurement process is followed, the funding has been approved and it doesn’t require any further council action, mayors don’t see purchase orders, Mayor Curt Balzano Leng said. But in response to this issue, Leng said Wednesday that he issued a directive last week requiring that anything purchased over $7,500 will require the mayor’s direct authorization.
The town’s purchasing ordinances will be reviewed in response to the complaint, Pascarella said. “It should require we favor local businesses to prevent this from ever happening again,” he said. “We will dig into this more closely. I think we should do everything possible to favor local vendors. I think it’s outrageous that we bought these vehicles from an out-of-state vendor.”
“I support a local business incentive for procurement so we can buy as much as we can from local businesses that pay Hamden taxes and support our economy so long as their pricing is best or close to best,” Leng said.