Get a big bang for your fleet buck

Lisa Harris, Manager of Publications and Outreach, Kansas Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP), Lawrence, Kansas, and President, National LTAP Association; Brenda Herrman, Director of Public Works, City of Hays, Kansas, and Chair, APWA Fleet Services Committee

Purchasing a government vehicle is not as easy as driving to the local dealership and working a deal. You need to know where the deals are. This article will provide information on several programs designed to help local governments get the most for their fleet dollars—some in our home state of Kansas and some available nationwide.

State Purchasing Programs Open to Local Governments
Smaller local governments do not have the purchasing power to receive significant discounts. State governments do, however, and most states have programs that allow local governments to purchase from their vendors at state contract prices.

Jack Galt, Director of the National Association of State Procurement Officers (NASPO), said that about 75-80 percent of the states allow, and most encourage, local governments to purchase off their contracts. "Everyone benefits from that," he said.

To learn if your state has such a program, contact your state's director of purchases. Go to naspo.org and click on the "State Directors" link. In most cases, you can link directly to your state's procurement website from your state director's page.

An example of such a program can be found in Kansas, and has been promoted by the Kansas Collaborative's Transportation Breakthrough Team (see sidebar). The State of Kansas manages 1,000+ open-ended supply and service contracts. More than half are approved for use by local governments. The user can find and use state contracts for anything from heavy equipment to paper clips. The contracts can be found at: http://da.state.ks.us/purch/contracts/contract.asp.

The site includes contracts used by the Kansas DOT, so it is a goldmine of products and services useful to a road department (i.e., aggregate, concrete, temporary pavement marking, traffic cones, rock salt for snow and ice operations, etc.). It is searchable by contract title and keyword.

Fleet-related products include vehicles, automotive parts and supplies, batteries, tires and tubes, brake pads and rotors, oil, and blades for motor graders to name a few.

Purchasing an item is easy. The local government user just clicks on the product name to download the contract award with the products available and prices. The local agency then can contact the vendor directly. Items must be purchased within dates specified in the contract.

Rod Meredith, Assistant Director of Public Works from Riley County, Kans., saved more than $10,000 by purchasing vehicles off state contracts in 2006. And his county saved $30,000 on furniture, compared with retail prices. The City of Hays, Kans., has averaged similar savings on vehicles.

Tony Herrman, Road and Bridge Director for Seward County, Kans., got a "big bang" for his fleet dollar with this state contract-purchased vehicle.

Some communities are finding ways to get state contract prices, and still maintain some measure of "buying local."

Commissioner Joe Nold, Dickinson County, Kans., buys vehicles off the state contract but pays his local dealership to provide set-up and prep, and to handle all the warrantee work.

Tony Herrman, Road and Bridge Director, Seward County, Kans., researched how much a vehicle would cost from a state contract, and also took local bids. A local dealership came in with a bid $2,100 over the contract price. "The dealership argued that I should buy local because they are taxpayers; I told them I represent all the taxpayers and I need to get the best buy for the dollars we have. I was comfortable going before my commissioners with a recommendation to buy local—up to, say, $500 more, but not $2,100," Herrman said. In the end, the local dealership revised their bid and matched the state contract price, and the county saved money on shipping that would have been added by the state contract vendor.

U.S. Communities Government Purchasing Alliance
This is a similar program at the national level. The program competitively solicits products through a lead public agency, and offers contract prices to public agencies nationwide.

Currently over 14,000 agencies participate in U.S. Communities, in all 50 states. There is no cost to participate.

U.S. Communities offers a variety of product lines and services on their contracts, including parts and accessories for light-duty vehicles through the company Autozone. The program is managed by public purchasing professionals who work closely with public agencies to understand their buying needs. Key advantages to local agencies are cost savings and confidence in the products offered.

U.S. Communities lists their registered customers on their website, by state, at http://www.uscommunities.org/gpa/value/nation.html. In a search for Kansas customers, we learned that this service is used by 40 cities and almost half the counties in the state.

For more information and to become a public agency participant, visit http://uscommunities.org.

H-GAC: Not just for Texans
The Houston-Galveston Area Council, a transportation planning association, creates buying power by offering products nationwide. They have many fleet-related products, including (as listed on their site):

  • Auto & Truck: cars, vans, utility, trucks (light, medium, heavy)
  • Earthmoving & Construction: excavators, dozers, graders, backhoes, loaders, etc.
  • Fire Service: pumpers, tankers, aerials, heavy rescue, boats
  • Fleet Services: lifts, alignment, wash, autogreasing, scales, air comp, etc.
  • Grounds Maintenance Equipment: mowers, tractors, sprayers, chippers, utility, etc.
  • Refuse Collection: truck bodies, containers, compactors, trailers
  • Street Maintenance: rollers, pavers, patchers, distributors, milling, etc., trailers, equipment and cargo

To purchase from the H-GAC, local governments submit a simple cooperative purchasing agreement, available at:
http://www.h-gac.com/HGAC/Programs/Cooperative+Purchasing/default.htm.

The City of Yuma, N.M., has purchased fire equipment through this service. "We have used the H-GAC contract for fire equipment and have found the services to work quite well," said Charlie Caudill, Fleet Manager for the City of Yuma Fleet Services. "They have a wide variety of units on contract for different vocations, with options to outfit a unit to the individual needs."

Philpott Motors in Nederland, Tex., sells fully-outfitted patrol cars through its contract with the H-GAC. Philpott is known for competitive prices. Jim Schaad, Fleet Manager for the City of Fresno, said: "We have been utilizing Philpott Ford to purchase fully-outfitted Crown Victorias built to our specs. The price, fully equipped with our gear, was about $50,000." Schaad noted that the cost will vary depending on the equipment specified. For more information about Philpott vehicles, contact Bobby Swan at (888) 973-5338 ext. 1047, or visit http://www.copcars.biz.

Conclusion
Local governments are the "little guys" in the fleet business, but by banding together with other buyers, they can get great deals. Take advantage of what's out there, and save your taxpayers some bucks.

Lisa Harris can be reached at (785) 864-2590 or lharris@ku.edu; Brenda Herrman, who will be one of the presenters at the "Progressive Women in Public Works" session (Sept. 11 at 3:45 p.m.) at the APWA Congress in San Antonio, can be reached at (785) 628-7350 or bherrman@haysusa.com.

Kansas Collaborative creates innovative ways to save money

Kansas has an award-winning new program that creates cost savings for local agencies in several ways. Called the Kansas Collaborative, it creates collaboration between state, county and local government. The idea came from a consulting firm, TeamTech, out of the state's B.E.S.T. (Budget Efficiency Savings Teams) Teams that were started at the direction of Governor Kathleen Sebelius. These teams emphasized cross-agency collaboration within state government; the Kansas Collaborative expanded on that idea to create collaboration across different levels of government.

The "Transportation Breakthrough Team" is one of six teams within the Kansas Collaborative. Besides making local agencies aware how easy it is to use state contracts to save local taxpayer dollars, this team brokered cooperative state-local purchasing for milling and overlay projects, is promoting data-sharing and the use of GIS across the state, and helped create a state engineer position within the Kansas Association of Counties to answer questions from local governments.

Kansas Transportation Secretary Deb Miller has been very supportive of the work of the Transportation Breakthrough Team. Her director of public affairs, Julie Lorenz, is a team member.

Joel Wright, principal at TeamTech, said the word "breakthrough" refers to breaking through the conventional ways government does business, so that state and local governments can share solutions to shared problems.

"I would hope other states are doing something like the Kansas Collaborative," said Wright. "However, when we won the innovation award from the Council of State Governments, [Council members] were very interested in this idea and did not talk much about what other states were doing."

Visit the Kansas Collaborative at www.thekansascollaborative.com.