Better policy required

Published on August 12, 2014

In addition to being a significant financial hardship, buying a new car can be a stressful proposition – even for a municipality.

The City of Summerside recently approved the purchase of two new hybrid cars for its police department, but not without some anxiety for some around the council chamber.

In particular, the bid award recommendation raised some questions and concerns for both Mayor Basil Stewart and Deputy Mayor Bruce MacDougall.

Stewart was troubled by the fact the city was not choosing the cheapest option while MacDougall was worrying that by doing so council could be opening itself up to a legal challenge.

Rewinding for a moment, Summerside Police Services requires two new vehicles to be used as unmarked cars; it sent out a request for proposals to local car dealers.

Bids meeting specifications were submitted by Clark’s Toyota in the amount of $53,249 for the Camry; Kia Motors at $52,480 for the Optimum Hybrid; D Alex MacDonald for $51,686 for the Fusion; and Summerside Hyundai for the Sonata for $50,200.

Deputy Police Chief Sinclair Walker took each for a test drive and reported that the Camry would be the most suitable for the department’s needs. The police chief agreed and so did the city’s police services committee, which recommended purchasing the Toyotas.

To be honest, considering there was only about $3,000 difference after trade-ins were factored into the equation (a small amount when considering we’re talking about two cars) it was not unreasonable for council to give the department what it wanted; but it does raise an interesting issue: should it be all about the price? all about the need? or some combination of both?

We think the latter.

Chief Administrative Officer Bob Ashley said in this case the city issued a request for proposals for the product the company had to offer. And, although there were general specifications, it was not the same as the tendering process used for construction projects.

There is no sense getting the cheapest product just because it is the cheapest product. Everything ought to be considered, including cost, reliability history, service, required specifications and whatever else is deemed important to the purchase. But that doesn’t mean caution ought to be thrown to the wind.

So, while we would never, ever, condone the frivolous spending of taxpayers dollars, we think the city got it right this time around, but it ought to consider a more clear policy for purchases before something goes horribly awry in the future.