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Delaware county bid thresholds raised, modernized

Katie Tabeling
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Minimum county bids for materials and non-professional services would begin at $100,000; professional services would begin at $150,000 and public works projects would begin at $200,000. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

DOVER — All bids on county projects and services have been raised to a minimum of $100,000 in an initiative to open doors to minority businesses and smaller firms, thanks to a law passed by the General Assembly earlier this summer and signed by Gov. John Carney.

House Bill 72, sponsored by Rep. Sherry Dorsey-Walker (D-Wilmington), raised the project cost threshold for contractors across the entire state, bringing county bid thresholds to the same level offered in state government.

Minimum bids for materials and non-professional services would begin at $100,000; professional services would begin at $150,000 and public works projects would begin at $200,000. The state thresholds are set by the Delaware Contracting and Purchasing Advisory Council or otherwise set by law.

HB 72 passed the Senate in June with unanimous support, except one senator who was absent. Carney signed the bill in late July, and it went into effect immediately.

Historically, businesses that may not have the economy of scale in terms of workers and resources may have been cut out of a local government procurement process that may have policies that select low bids. By setting the thresholds high enough, it opens a door for additional criteria like past experience to be weighed more.

Dorsey-Walker sponsored the bill at the behest of the New Castle County government, which was seeking to update its procurement policies to aid small and minority-owned firms.

“Last year, we conducted research on how we could diversify our contractor suppliers and this legislation was one of the top recommendations,” New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer said. “In New Castle County, we continue to remain committed to increasing the diversity in how we invest our resources on public projects. We thank those members of the Delaware legislature who were supportive of this bill and look forward to our continued partnership with them.”

In March 2022, Keen Independent Research completed a public works procurement study for New Castle County. Results showed that 27% of construction contracts awarded between women-owned businesses and minority-owned businesses between July 2016 and June 2021.

Breaking down the dollar amount: $17 million were awarded to Black-owned firms, $7 million to Asian-American-owned companies and $4.7 million were awarded to women-owned contractors. In all, New Castle County spent $107 million in those five years. Raising the bid threshold was one of the many suggestions outlined in the New Castle County procurement study.

Before HB 72 was signed into law, New Castle County had set thresholds for materials and non-professionals of $25,000, and professional services and public projects of $50,000. 

Sussex County had a set bid minimum at $50,000. Kent County already had its bid policy in line with the state government.

In addition, HB 72 grants Sussex County the same power to sole-source procurement, emergency needs, contract performance, multiple source contracting as granted to the state. The county was also granted the authority to grant contracts without requesting competitive bids without awarding to the low bidder for engineering, legal or professional services requiring special skills. 

Both New Castle and Kent County governments already had this authority.

Finally, HB 72 also modifies the procedure by which the county financial officer can award public contracts and aligns it with the procurement policy.

The study New Castle County government commissioned also suggests a small business enterprise program that would give small businesses more visibility in the bidding process of the state’s largest county, education about the county marketplace, coaching about navigating the vendor registration and eligibility process. 

This program, combined with the proposed changes, would open more opportunities for minority-owned and women-owned businesses for county government contracts. No comment was available as of press time on the status of this proposal.

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