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TRUMBULL COUNTY Several municipalities hedge on joining purchasing co-op



Published: Sun, September 15, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



One commissioner says the cost of janitorial and paper products will be less if more communities participate.

By PEGGY SINKOVICH

and STEPHEN SIFF

VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF

WARREN -- At least two townships and one city have opted not to take part in Trumbull County's new cooperative purchasing program until an investigation into some of the county's vendors is complete.

Pat Ungaro, Liberty administrator, and Mark Finamore, Vienna trustee, said their townships have opted not to participate because of recent news articles on the county's purchasing system and Prosecutor Dennis Watkins' decision to ask the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation to look into the matter.

"I think we should just sit it out and wait to see what happens before we take part in the program," Ungaro said.

"There are some questions and concerns I have that I want answered before we take part in this," Finamore said. He declined to state his questions -- saying he has already asked one county commissioner. He said he has not received answers.

Diane Carpenter, Fowler Township clerk, said township officials sent paperwork to the county saying they would take part in the program -- but noted they do not plan to buy any items.

"I don't think we will buy anything until this investigation is complete," Carpenter said.

Commissioner Michael O'Brien said he's not upset by the reactions.

"Just like any municipality, they [townships] have been doing purchasing their way and been satisfied," said Michael O'Brien, a Trumbull County commissioner. "If it isn't broken, why fix it?"

How this works

The county's program works by letting cities and townships pay the same price for office and janitorial supplies that the county is paying.

In the past year, Trumbull County has bid for the first time for copy paper, office supplies and the 11 janitorial supplies it uses most.

At several meetings in April and May, township and municipal officials were invited to use the vendors who had offered the lowest price to the county. They were told they could contact the vendors directly and get the same deal, officials say.

Last year, the 12-month contract for office supplies went to Boise of Cleveland. A six-month contract for the most-used janitorial items, such as toilet paper, paper towels and garbage bags, was awarded to W.J. Service Co. of Warren.

As the county prepares to bid contracts a second time, it hopes to be able to tell vendors up front which townships and villages will participate. That way, the vendors can expect to do a greater volume of business and will perhaps offer even better prices.

Lower prices on the competitively bid contract resulted in a savings of 30 percent on paper and office supplies and 40 percent on janitorial supplies, according to letters mailed to city and township officials.

"If you get in all together, it will be cheaper for all of them," said James Tsagaris, a Trumbull County commissioner. "The more participation, the cheaper the product."

City and township officials were given until Aug. 30 to decide if they want to participate in the contract for office supplies and had until Friday to decide on janitorial products.

Fourteen townships signed up for office supplies, and 16 communities and government entities have signed up for janitorial supplies so far, officials say.

However, those lists include both Vienna and Liberty, which have decided to withdraw.

Hubbard Council decided to table legislation that would allow the city to participate until an investigation into several companies that do business is complete.

What's behind this

Watkins has asked county commissioners to stop doing business with Lid Chem and Tri County Supplies, a related company, that have been paid $677,000 by the county maintenance department for county supplies over the past nine years.

Watkins also asked agents with the state BCI to probe the matter.

Both companies use the same residential address in Girard on some financial forms.

Tony Delmont, the county's maintenance department director, said he is sure the company has a warehouse but he doesn't know where.

Neither Lid Chem nor Tri County Supplies owns real estate under the company names in Trumbull or Mahoning counties.

Delmont ordered cleaning supplies such as furniture polish and laundry soap from the companies for use by the maintenance department and the jail maintenance staff.

Neither company has a formal contract despite doing far more than $15,000 worth of business with the county a year. The $15,000 figure is the threshold for competitive bidding, according to the prosecutor's office.

In the wake of Vindicator stories about the county's buying habits, commissioners recently ordered Anthony Carson Jr., the county's director of purchasing, to seek competitive bids on janitorial supplies.

Carson said his responsibility is to put together the bid package and not to deal with individual vendors.




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