NORTH SMITHFIELD – For more than 14 years, state law has dictated that municipalities in Rhode Island can spend up to $5,000 without triggering the need for time-consuming procedures, such as advertising and a bidding process.
But in North Smithfield, a local ordinance sets the limit at $1,000, a restriction Town Administrator Paul Zwolenski says has become a hinderance in conducting town business.
“This comes because we were trying to facilitate internet access at the control center and it was very difficult,” said Zwolenski at a Town Council meeting this week. “What can one purchase for $1,000 around this town? Pretty much nothing.”
Now, members of the Town Council are hoping to amend North Smithfield’s Code of Ordinances to match state law for purchasing and competitive bidding, raising the limit from $1,000 to $5,000.
“I agree it needs to be updated,” said Town Councilor Paul Vadenais. “The $1,000 ties your hands. Nothing costs $1,000 anymore.”
The councilor noted that the current ordinance is inconsistent with both the Town Charter and North Smithfield’s purchasing policy, as well as state law.
“Not one of them lines up. We need to look at all four pieces,” he said. “The town has adopted policies to change that amount but not an ordinance. It’s really messy in some places.”
According to ordinance 6-4, the Town Council must, “order advertising for bids in a newspaper of general circulation,” for any purchases or contracts of more than $1,000 at least five days prior to the opening of competitive bidding. Written bids and recommendations must then be submitted to the council for approval, with an exception made for emergency purchases.
Town Solicitor David Igliozzi noted that the ordinance was passed in 1973 and amended in 1996.
The charter, meanwhile, does not list an exact figure, but references Rhode Island state law, which sets the much higher limit, and accounts for inflation using the Consumer Price Index.
Vadenais noted that the local ordinance takes precedence, and the process often means spending hundreds in advertising even for small expenditures.
“It doesn’t make sense,” he said. “This is the first step. I support making the change.”
Zwolenski said that any spending decisions at the new limit would be brought before the board after the fact.
“It is a little silly that it’s $1,000 in this day and age,” agreed Town Council President John Beauregard.
Beauregard noted that the new ordinance should include CPI and that if the provision had been included in the 1996, there would be no need for a change due to cost increases over the past 25 years.
Vadenais agreed, noting of the future cost adjustments, “It’s not going to make a big jump.”
Monday, June 7 marked the first reading for the proposed amendment, with Igliozzi to draft a version that includes CPI to come back before the council. The change, Igliozzi said, does not require a public hearing.