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Ramsey County ends purchasing partnership with St. Paul

  • Article by: Kevin Duchschere
  • Star Tribune
  • May 21, 2013 - 8:34 PM

In a reversal of the general trend toward joint government services, the Ramsey County Board on Tuesday chose to end a decades-old partnership with St. Paul to purchase goods from vendors.

The commissioners unanimously created a procurement office for the county because, they said, it would be cheaper and work better than going through the city’s contract and analysis services division.

The transition to separate systems will begin this summer and be completed by the end of the year.

“We collaborate with the city in so many different ways,” Board Chairman Rafael Ortega said. “It’s just that this piece, we could do it more efficiently and less expensively.”

In a letter to the board before Tuesday’s vote, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman strongly disagreed, pointing out that the city has recently improved its own procurement practices.

“Building a new staffing structure and developing vendor outreach processes will, in my estimation, end up costing the county and the taxpayers more. Simply put, it does not make sense to have dual processes,” the mayor wrote.

But Ortega and county officials said that the cost of using the city had risen in recent years beyond what the county would have to pay to staff its own department.

The city charged the county $536,000 for procurement services last year for which the county had budgeted $359,000, and county officials estimated those costs could rise as high as $650,000 by 2015.

On the other hand, County Finance Director Lee Mehrkens said, it would cost the county around $400,000 annually in the next couple of years to do it alone. A big part of the problem, he said, is that the city and county use different software systems and business processes, which make the procurement process more complicated than it should be.

The board on Tuesday authorized the hiring of three full-time procurement specialists and one administrative assistant, along with payments of nearly $350,000 to settle final charges with St. Paul and establish a procurement office.

Coleman spokesman Joe Campbell said the county’s costs went up because it had unreasonable expectations about how its service needed to be delivered.

Kevin Duchschere • 651-925-5035

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