Nearly every local government entity has been affected by the realities of a tougher economy. Revenues are down or stagnant, while equipment, maintenance and fuel costs continue to skyrocket. Procurement officers and purchasing agents at every level have been forced to become creative with budgets and spending patterns to ensure that the equipment needed is available and relevant to the people who depend on it to do their jobs.
To stretch available dollars to their maximum efficiency, here are some ideas.
Figure out what you need — and equally as important, what you don’t need
While the need for additional equipment seemingly grows with each budget, take a look at existing assets and pinpoint things that are underused or have become irrelevant to your needs. Many times, equipment can be repurposed or serve double duty, allowing the duplicate stock to become liquidated. “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” is a motto not only relevant at neighborhood garage sales but also at the municipal level.
Equipment not being used in Indianapolis, Ind., may be needed in Louisville, Ky. What Louisville is able to purchase from Indianapolis may be acquired for significantly less than buying it new. The money Indianapolis receives from Louisville can be used to buy surplus from Kalamazoo, Mich.
Websites such as ironplanet.com, auctionzip.com and equipmentauction.com are a few of many places online that facilitate the bid and purchase of used equipment from other municipalities and private sellers. Many of them take equipment on consignment for sale at auction or online, matching up sellers and buyers from around the country.
Join a purchasing cooperative
No city is in this alone. Your counterpart in the next town likely is going through the same hair-pulling that you are, trying to make the proverbial ends meet. So is the lady three states over and the guy three states from her. So how do you get together with these people to utilize greater buying power? Organizations such as uscommunities.org can pool purchases, both large and small, with those of other entities to achieve quantity price breaks on both durable and nondurable goods. Additionally, many states have set up co-ops for local governments to utilize.
For example, New Jersey’s Division of Purchase and Property allows local governments to team with the state in realizing significant savings in purchasing. Other state legislative bodies have passed bills allowing for cooperative purchasing between state and local governments.
Turn to the federal government for help
Although the United States General Services Administration is the federal government’s procurement arm, state and local governments have the ability to tap into its resources for many of their purchasing needs. Through the GSA’s Cooperative Purchasing Program, state, local and tribal governments can benefit from pre-vetted vendors on a variety of information technology products and services as well as security and law enforcement products and services offered through specific GSA Schedule contracts. This program allows eligible entities to buy from cooperative purchasing-approved vendors at any time, for any reason, using any funds available. For more information, visit www.gsa.gov and search under “cooperative purchasing.”
Sometimes you have to spend money to save money
In a 2011 story by Tom Haydon of the Newark Star-Ledger, he chronicles a story about North Brunswick, N.J., in which city officials “put up $11 million in township funds, and received another $11 million from Middlesex County to purchase the Pulda family farm, saving a pristine 70-acre tract where deer still roam, and ending a developer’s plan for more than 300 homes.”
Mayor Francis Womack noted that “development into single-family homes would have increased our education costs much more than the purchase price.”
Haydon noted that another township government spent $345,000 for development rights to 14 acres, which spared the township from additional housing construction while preserving quality of life. At the time Mayor Brian Levine considered it one of the best moves for the municipality. “It’s got the added bonus of saving millions of dollars in school construction and operating costs,” Levine said.
Don’t take grants for granted
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Assistance to Firefighters grants that it offers were designed to “help firefighters get needed equipment such as protective gear, vehicles, training and anything else needed to protect the public and their own personnel.”
Knowing that many grants are specific in their use and very competitive in their acquisition, some government entities have hired or contracted with professional grant writers to complete grant applications. The costs associated with such an employee or service are often outweighed by the financial benefits a grant provides.
Ask the community for help
When it comes to big ticket items, sometimes it becomes necessary to take out a loan. Referendums can be added to ballots during most elections asking the public to approve a bond to purchase a specific item. Naturally, the approval or denial of the request depends on the community, but many people understand the importance of infrastructure, both mobile and immobile, to the success of a community.
Ultimately, each community has different needs and resources. Defining specific needs and maximizing resources can be challenging, but when done effectively, it can lead to equipping workers with the items necessary for long-term success in an ever-changing and always challenging economic environment.