WCCC revises purchasing policy
Westmoreland County Community College officials hope an updated purchasing policy will give the school more choices when officials look to buy equipment and supplies.
The eight-page policy, approved by trustees in October, replaces three smaller, separate policies and unwritten guidelines the school used to solicit bids and make purchases.
“We’re trying to make our process as competitive as possible. That’s really what all the changes in the purchasing policy were about,” said Larry Larese, chairman of the board of trustees.
At times, trustees have questioned during meetings why there weren’t more bidders for purchases ranging from specialized equipment to printing of mailers or course catalogs.
Under the new policy, college administrators must provide trustees with a written explanation, including the process taken to find qualified bidders, if they don’t receive at least three proposals.
If a bid proposal is sent to 10 vendors and only one bids, it raises questions as to whether the other nine were valid vendors, Larese said.
“We’re wanting the staff to do an even better job at identifying people who really do supply a product or service,” he said. “Maybe if you’re just so busy, maybe you don’t go through the busy process necessary to get the best price, but I think it’s also particularly important, as we’ve been facing tough budgets the last two to three years.”
Funding cuts or flat appropriations from the state and county, combined with declining tuition funds because of drops in enrollment, mean “you have to look in every corner to save money,” Larese said.
From the college’s perspective, the primary goal of the policy is to formalize buying practices and procedures officials were following but weren’t written in a comprehensive policy, said Ron Eberhardt, vice president of administrative services.
The policy retains some previous regulations, such as requiring trustee approval for purchases of $10,000 or more. Purchases of $2,000 to $10,000 require competitive quotes from at least three suppliers but can be awarded to the lowest responsible bidder without trustee approval.
As part of the effort to reform buying practices, WCCC hired James J. Lutz of Hempfield to a newly implemented position of director of purchasing in June 2013. Lutz said he’s spent the last year comparing purchasing policies from other community colleges in Pennsylvania and surrounding states, as well as policies at some four-year universities.
Two other policy changes include establishing a purchasing department, made up of the president and vice president of administrative services, authorized by trustees to commit to purchases. The authority was previously understood, but not formally written, Lutz said.
The policy spells out circumstances under which the college can make purchases without competitive bids, such as when goods or services are needed immediately because of an emergency or when equipment or a part must be compatible with existing items.
In cases without competitive bids, the purchasing department must research the exception to be sure bidding is not possible and must receive the concurrence of the college solicitor and written approval of the president to proceed with the purchase, the policy states.
“The purchasing area has become more technical in terms of the types of purchases we’re making,” said Eberhardt. “Jim’s done a very good job for us … in developing this new policy, and so now we have to implement it.”
Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2856 or firstname.lastname@example.org.