We won’t second-guess the decision.
Still, maybe the process that led to it should be revisited.
Last week, New Castle City Council opted to spend $209,730 on a five-year lease for five police department vehicles. There was no bidding process leading up to the move, but there didn’t need to be. When police Chief Bobby Salem is seeking vehicles, he has only to consult a state pricing list (COSTARS), select three prices from the dealers on that list and present them to council for consideration. This he did.
In the meantime, though, he also was contacted by a Greenville dealership that is not on the list but which, Salem said, not only offered a lower price, but also threw in a valuable extended service warranty. Ultimately, council voted 4-1 to go with that dealer.
Lowest price, best warranty — we can’t blame anyone for jumping on that.
Question arose, though, because pulling the trigger on the deal means sending tax money from New Castle residents not only out of the city, but out of the county as well. That’s something not everyone was happy about.
There’s not much anyone could do about keeping the money within city limits — there are no new car dealers with the municipality’s confines. Still, the police department expressed a desire to switch from Fords to Dodges, and there are Dodge dealerships located in Neshannock Township and Ellwood City.
Again, the police department and city council followed the appropriate rules for selecting a dealer. We wonder, though, if a more formal process of soliciting bids to choose the best deal might be better as it would eliminate any procedural questions. That way, all interested dealers have an opportunity to request consideration, and if the best bargain still comes from outside the county, well, the only folks to blame for that would be the local dealers whose prices didn’t measure up.
That said, we still have to question comments made by some council members about going out of town.
When Councilman Tom Smith was asked if a particular local dealership could match the out-of-town numbers, he was told that most of the local dealerships had once been located within the city, but had abandoned it for the suburbs. The inference, apparently, was that if the dealerships displayed no loyalty to the city, then the city owed them no consideration, either.
The observation is correct — there were once multiple new car dealerships within the city limits that, for the most part, now do business in Neshannock Township. Still, that dealer diaspora took place decades ago, and the owners who led it have either passed on or are no longer involved with the businesses. A deal’s a deal, but bygones also out to be bygones.
Moreover, when Smith noted that council was “taking Lawrence County tax money and spending it in another county,” he was told, “We’re New Castle, not Lawrence County.”
That’s not a division council ought not to be so quick to make. While the city may not make putting money into the pockets of people who do not live within its limits a top priority, it certainly has no problem taking money out of them.
That happens via the city’s enhanced earned income tax. As part of its Act 47 recovery, New Castle is permitted to a exact a 2.0 percent tax on the wages of people who do not live within the city, but who work in it. The city sends what is due to the municipality in which the resident lives, but helps itself to the overage.
Like the car process, there’s nothing underhanded about that. Having financially distressed status allows New Castle to set the wage tax at a higher rate than is allowed for most cities.
Still, if the city is going rely on the rest of the county to help it balance its ledgers, then it ought not to be so blithe about drawing a line between itself and its neighbors.