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Why Can’t Teaneck Just Buy a Printer on Amazon?

Teaneck—A June 9 Teaneck Town Council meeting was punctuated by many hot topics— Teaneck’s favorite horse, American Pharoah, and fire safety discussions regarding AvalonBay and their proposed purchase of the World of Wings property were just two exciting examples. But one of the most interesting discussions was an allegation of “grievous waste” on the part of the town council for approving the purchase of a color laser printer for the police station.

Concerned citizens posited that the printer in question was available on Amazon for just over $500.00, so why was the line item $1193.39? “Does the waste stop at this one item? Where’s the oversight?” posted Stephen Gruber on Facebook, who recently founded a citizen advocacy organization on social media called “Teaneck: End the Madness.”

It seems like a legitimate question. It does appear to the consumer’s eye that there is a ridiculous waste here. Perhaps there is no oversight at all. Seems like someone must be pocketing $600 somewhere, doesn’t it?

No.

A no-frills answer came in the form of a letter to William Broughton, the Teaneck Town Manager, dated June 17, in response to his query. The letter, from the town purchasing office, explains a number of intricacies of the township’s procurement process that are likely not publicly known.

“Things our concerned taxpayers need to understand are that we need to deal with vendors who can supply a NJ Business Registration Certificate Form and executed Teaneck Business Entity Disclosure Certificate,” wrote Kevin Lynch, Teaneck’s purchasing agent. “[We] cannot deal with a vendor like Amazon who requires credit card payment up front, prior to the delivery of goods or services, as this is against the law per NJ Procurement and Financial statutes,” he said. Lynch added that payment needs to be made on receipt of an invoice, which must include not only a written certification from the vendor that he has delivered the good or services, but also a receiving report by the relevant department head that the goods have been received, as well as approval by the town council at the next available bill list meeting.

Lynch also explained that Teaneck is a municipal member of the New Jersey State Purchasing Cooperative and is able to utilize “buy in bulk” prices obtained through this Inter-State Cooperative Contract. “The purpose of the Local Public Contracts Law is to afford all vendors the opportunity to participate in public contracts, and procurement regulations stressing this principle can lead to more costs and higher prices for government entities in New Jersey,” he wrote.

It does seem counterintuitive that procurement regulations can lead to higher costs, so this point seemed worthy of further investigation. When reached by phone, Lynch told the Jewish Link that the law advocates for many vendors to have the opportunity to bid for a contract, but that the downside of the transparent process (“We are in a fishbowl,” he said) is sometimes increased documentation (paperwork), which leads to higher prices. “The bidding laws themselves can add costs,” he said. “The basic premise [and the purpose of the regulation] is to permit more people the opportunity to bid on the job,” he said. The law ensures the protection of the town against price gouging by a single approved vendor or of an oligopoly driving up prices together.

“You can always buy something cheaper online, but we have to get documents back from our vendors before we can use them. It takes us between 30 and 60 days to pay a vendor,” Lynch said.

The letter states that the printer contract cost of $1193.29 from Pascack Data Services, Inc. included a three-year next-day-service contract, including parts and labor, which added $380.00 to the price of the delivery. The printer also was purchased with a warranty and included free shipping. Lynch said that prices on certain types of products, including computers and gasoline, fluctuate widely based on a variety of factors. Lynch added in the letter that the Teaneck Police Department has been using Dell products for many years and specifically wanted to continue with their past practices.

By Elizabeth Kratz

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