Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Local governments need ‘buy local’ policies

When voters approved a $60 million plant facilities levy for Blaine County schools a little more than a year ago, the School District promised to concentrate spending with local companies.

The district reported in July that it was making good on that promise by spending 70 percent of funds for renovation and geothermal resource development work at Bellevue Elementary school with at least 22 local companies that employ local workers.

The money the district spent came from property taxes.

The district's "buy local" approach employed many people whose livelihoods as independent subcontractors had left them without even the ability to collect unemployment benefits in tough times. In other words, it employed workers who had been left out of a job and out of luck.

The district's initiative, which is ongoing, is helping to buffer the construction sector of the local economy that's been battered by the national recession.

The district is doing what other local government bodies should do: shopping local insofar as it can.

Local businesses and employees pay property taxes that support the operations of cities, the county and other taxing districts. (Yes, if businesses lease space and workers rent homes, property taxes are built in.) Businesses also pay personal property taxes on equipment and machinery they own.

In other words, local companies offer more than just competitive prices: They contribute to public coffers.

Yet, Blaine County, as just one example, has no policy on buying from local companies even though buying local begets more stable and prosperous companies that pay property taxes.

Money spent outside the area returns nothing.

With no "buy local" policies in place, county, city and other elected officials do as they please when it comes to purchasing, with more consideration sometimes paid to price than perpetuating a strong local economy and strong local tax revenues—all in the name of saving taxpayers money.

This is not to say that local governments should blindly pay high prices just because businesses are local. That would be anticompetitive. However, by and large, local companies can be very price competitive, and they deserve a chance to win government business.

It's in the interest of the cities, the county and every taxing district in Blaine County to set up buying policies that benefit the local economy.

There's nothing to lose and everything to gain in helping a troubled local economy become a little less troubled.

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