County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann is seeking more discretion over purchases, saying the county government shouldn't have to go through so much red tape to buy items costing up to $10,000.
On Nov. 3, voters will vote on a proposed charter amendment that could raise the minimum dollar amount above which all purposes must be put out for sealed bids. The County Charter now requires sealed bids to be submitted for all county purchases worth $3,000 or more.
The County Council voted 7-0 Tuesday for the charter amendment.
Currently, the proposed purchase must be advertised in newspapers, and other legal procedures are involved.
The proposed amendment, which will be on the Nov. 3 ballot, calls for the council to set a new spending limit.
"I'm not wild about it, but the County Council sets the limit," said Council President Jeffrey D. Wilson, a Republican. "If anything, the charter amendment gives the council greater authority. If the council doesn't have confidence in the executive, it can set the limit as low as it pleases."
"What I'm hoping is we'll be seeing tighter regulations coming forward about how procurements that are less than whatever is set by law are going to be handled," he added.
But Councilman Robert S. Wagner, R-District D, said that if the amendment is approved, he doubts that the council will agree to the $10,000 limit Mrs. Rehrmann prefers.
"I'm not in favor of bumping it up that high, and I don't think the council will go for it -- maybe something in the $5,000 to $7,000 range," said Mr. Wagner.
"I think a $10,000 limit gives you a little too much of a free hand. Anything over $7,000 and you're really getting into a substantial purchase."
Mrs. Rehrmann has argued that the sealed bid process is costly and time-consuming.
For example, in the 1990-1991 fiscal year, Harford spent $35,200 to solicit sealed bids on the 64 purchases it made for $10,000 or less.
In fiscal 1991-1992, Harford spent $26,400 for sealed bids on the 48 purchases it made for $10,000 or less.
John O'Neill, the county's Procurement Department director, said that the sealed bid process takes six to eight weeks and costs $550.
"It's a complicated and costly process, and none of the other counties go through it for amounts as small as $3,000," said Mr. O'Neill. "If we did an open bid process, we could make calls, get three quotes via facsimile from competitors, and make our decision."