By Sean Wardwell

Killeen Daily Herald

Bell County went on an information technology buying spree in the past month, spending nearly $500,000 on software, servers and other technology.

While the overall cost seems steep, the county made the equipment purchases at a lower price than surrounding counties by using a state bidding system and then making bidders compete with each other.

By using this cost-saving method, the technology equipment was purchased at a nearly 50 percent discount, said Jim Chandler, director of information technology services, during a commissioners court meeting in late February.

"I haven't heard of Texas cities recently getting especially good prices on (information technology) equipment," said Bennett Sandlin, executive director of the Texas Municipal League, a nonprofit association that promotes city issues. "I can't tell for sure any reason why it's happening there."

Chandler attributed the procurement strategy to his 15 years of experience in government purchasing and contracting. "When you know what you want you can talk to people easier," he said. "We try and set up as competitive of a process as possible."

In 1989, the Texas Department of Information Resources was established to ensure information technology compatibility and centralized technology bidding.

The state agency's Information and Communications Technology Cooperative Contract program generated $1.3 billion in sales for information technology equipment in 2009, while saving taxpayers $171 million. Chandler said the average cost reduction is 34 percent on materials obtained through the state program.

Phil Goodwill, director of special projects for Bell County, said his colleague takes the purchasing process one step further. "I know that (Chandler) has been negotiating with different suppliers (on the state's list) to make them compete against each other to get the best prices."

Bell County Judge Jon Burrows said that because the state already has bidded most of the services at a significant savings, the county can pick and choose among the approved bidders.

"We can piggyback on what the state's done and not have to go through a separate bidding process," he said.

Lampasas County also uses the state system, but doesn't conduct additional bidding rounds. "We normally go through the state's website," said Lampasas County Judge Wayne Boultinghouse.

Similar to Lampasas County, Coryell County Judge John Firth said his county doesn't have a separate procurement office. "When you go through the state system, you can get (information technology cheaper)."

Firth said Bell County's cost-savings measures impressed him. "I applaud any county that leverages supply and demand to get the best prices possible."

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