Some Tupelo officials demand local contract preference

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – In the world of competitive bids, the company with the lowest and best price wins the contract.
But during the City Council’s vote Tuesday awarding a $1.7 million contract to an out-of-state company, at least two councilmen said location should matter, too.
“It’s time to stand up for local jobs,” said Ward 1 Councillman Markel Whittington, opposing a drainage contract going to Arlington, Tenn.-based Enscor.
Echoing those comments was Ward 6 Councilman Mike Bryan.
Enscor was among 10 companies to bid for the project, which will improve drainage along South Green Street. Its offer was the lowest and best, beating Tupelo-based Century Construction by more than $39,000 – about 2 percent.
Enscor’s bid was $1,750,422; Century Construction’s was $1,789,800.
Whittington earlier this month had lobbied colleagues to give Century the job, saying its roots and economic impact here make it the best choice.
Century employs some 130 people earning a combined $4 million. It also contributes $100,000 in annual property taxes and donates money to the public school system, he said.
Although based in Tennessee, Enscor has an existing municipal contract to improve a portion of Endville Road.
State law provides two ways a public entity can award a contract to the next-lowest bidder, said city attorney John Hill. Either the lowest bid must contained hidden costs that’ ultimately raise the final price or its work quality or ability to perform work must come into question.
Neither factor applied to this case, Hill said.
But a third way could soon exist if a bill currently alive in the Legislature becomes law.
House Bill 1465 would allow public entities to give preference to Mississippi companies in a bid process. As long as the in-state companies’ prices are less than 5 percent higher than the lowest out-of-state bidder, the Mississippi company could win the job.
“We need to urge everyone to contact their legislators to pass that law and give Mississippi companies that 5 percent preference,” Whittington said.
The bill passed the House last month and is now in the Senate Finance Committee.
In the meantime, the council played it safe by awarding the contract to Enscor in a 6-1 vote. Whittington was the sole opponent.
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.