April 10, 2013

Adding sense to Franklin County's purchasing policy


---- — MALONE — Franklin County is revising its purchasing policy, which may simultaneously end complaints and the rancor that legislators are hearing from department heads.

Legislators told County Manager Thomas Leitz, who oversees the Purchasing Department and houses its staff in his office, that they’ve heard numerous complaints for more than a year about rejected or delayed purchase orders or reimbursement vouchers.

Rejections can be about differing price quotes of a few pennies or the lack of vendor quotes in a time-sensitive situation or forced purchases of dozens of extra items to meet a minimum-order requirement when only a handful is actually needed.


Legislators also said department heads who question the rejections are treated rudely and that some fear future purchasing orders or voucher requests will be delayed if they complain.

Leitz countered that it is the department heads who are rude and that he has not heard any complaints and hasn’t been told that his staff has been difficult to deal with. But he is willing to open his weekly staff meetings to any who want to tell him their issues.


Legislator Sue Robideau (R-Brushton) said she is pushing for changes and cited a few recent examples of how common sense is sometimes lacking in following state-contract regulations outlined in the purchasing policy.

She said a Highway Department dump truck with a full load broke down on Route 11B and needed a $10 part before its driver could get back on the road. The closest place under state contract that supplies the part is in Plattsburgh.

That meant the stranded dump-truck driver had to wait with the disabled vehicle for five hours while a second highway employee made out the requisition form, got it approved, drove from Malone to Plattsburgh to buy the part and brought it back.

“I can understand making them go by state contract for big things, but you can’t leave a county vehicle sitting for hours on the side of the road for a $10 part,” Robideau said.

“It’s the same thing as with the screws.”

In that case, the automated handicapped-access door on the Brewster Street side of the County Courthouse was inoperable because one of its screws was missing, a part that costs $1.25 at any hardware store. But because of the purchasing policy, Buildings and Grounds Superintendent Darrin Rubadeau had to get quotes from three state-contracted vendors to find the cheapest price, which took hours out of his workday, she said.

“It’s time consuming, and time is valuable,” Robideau said. “Everybody’s time is valuable. And this is something that could be taken out of petty cash.”


Examples like those are why legislators recently approved creating petty-cash accounts for Rubadeau, the Highway Department and Emergency Services.

Robideau said she’d like to see more purchasing requests done as vouchers rather than purchase orders through the Purchasing Department, such as routine payments for items like fuel oil and telephone bills.

She would also like to see purchasing responsibilities and oversight removed from the County Manager’s Office because of Leitz’s volume of work.

“The county manager oversees all the departments in the county, and that’s a full-time job,” she said. “I’m not trying to be mean, but there are more important things for Tom to work on than the purchasing policy.”

She was not sure if it’s legal to make that move but said she would ask County Attorney Jonathan Miller. She suggested County Treasurer Bryon Varin ask the county’s independent auditor for an opinion.

“I’m not dropping this,” Robideau said. “I want to know, and I’ll be satisfied when I see in writing that it’s legal or it’s not.”


Purchasing has one full-time and one part-time staff person, and Leitz said the solution to problems may be to hire an additional full-time person and to have each of the county’s larger departments, like Social Services and Public Health, devote a staff person to purchasing issues.

“They easily have a one-person equivalent who just does nothing but purchasing,” he said, adding that the Purchasing Department would handle the needs of smaller staffs in departments, such as Weights and Measures and Public Transportation.

The idea comes at the same time department heads continue to cope with 11 staff layoffs that were part of last year’s county budget.

Email Denise A.