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Nearing The One-Year Mark, Town's New Purchasing Agent Creating Measurable Taxpayer Savings, Efficiencies



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It took Newtown officials about a decade to create and staff a Purchasing Agent position. But it took that new staffer, Rick Spreyer, less than a year to develop efficiencies and savings that measurably exceed the taxpayer cost of his salary and benefits package.

That benchmark is key for both Mr Spreyer and the many elected officials who after protracted discussion, voted to create the post and fund it with an eventual goal of having the position pay for itself on an annual basis.

First Selectman Dan Rosenthal was quick to credit Mr Spreyer for his expertise and diligence, but he also credited the many town officials across the Boards of Selectmen, Finance, Education, and the Legislative Council who deliberated, vetted, and approved creating the position in the 2018-19 budget.

“The idea of creating a purchasing agent position to serve the town certainly had merit, and I appreciate all the efforts put forth by council members, and those on the boards of finance, education, and selectmen ahead of my taking office,” Mr Rosenthal told The Newtown Bee. “I’m just glad I was able to follow through with the support of the Board of Education and district leadership to make that happen.”

The work of the new purchasing agent, and the related salary and benefits expense, is split evenly between the municipal and school district budgets.

While Mr Spreyer has been engaged in dozens of projects and purchasing decisions, large and small, in the eleven months since his arrival, Town Finance Director Robert Tait quickly identified just three that produced enough savings to more than cover the cost of the position in its first year.

Productive Decisions

Mr Tait pointed to a flooring and carpet replacement project Mr Spreyer helped negotiate for the school district at Reed Intermediate and the local high school and middle school. That project was budgeted at $90,000, but the final cost was $57,010 — a savings of $32,990.

Mr Spreyer said that now the district has the ability to do additional floor covering replacement within the budget parameters initially set, if they so choose.

According to Mr Tait, another project involving HVAC maintenance at Reed and Newtown High School that was originally budgeted at $173,600 was reviewed by Mr Spreyer and resulted in the project coming in at $131,800 — a savings of $41,800.

And a third project involving ductless air conditioning installations at Hawley Elementary and Newtown Middle School, budgeted to cost $100,000, came in at $78,800 after a review by the purchasing agent, saving $21,200.

“We’re already seeing this position paying dividends for taxpayers,” Mr Rosenthal affirmed.

The first selectman said additional savings are being realized because various individual department heads or staff were previously diverted from their primary duties to handle purchasing responsibilities.

“It’s not that any of these department representatives were incapable of handling purchasing duties, but it was not their primary function,” Mr Rosenthal said. “Having a dedicated and experienced purchasing professional handling this work exclusively is reaping benefits.”

In addition, Mr Tait and School District Business Manager Ron Bienkowski only have to interact and manage Mr Spreyer in matters related to purchasing instead of myriad individuals across multiple departments, again saving time and enhancing efficiencies.

“Now Bob and Ron only have to supervise work that Rick is doing,” Mr Rosenthal said.

On another costly project involving renovations at and around the Treadwell Park pool, the first selectman said Mr Spreyer was able to review bid specifications after all of the bids for that work came in over budget.

“So Rick was able to negotiate with the lowest bidder to achieve some value engineering and bring the work in under budget,” Mr Rosenthal said.

Mr Spreyer is also able to step in to assist on projects at non-municipal agencies that still depend on taxpayer funds for operating expenses and capital projects. For example, Mr Rosenthal said the purchasing agent stepped in to assist the Edmond Town Hall Board of Managers when they were working on capital improvements.

“The staff at Edmond Town Hall is great at running and maintaining the facility, but I don’t think putting together specs and bids on large capital projects is necessarily in their wheelhouse, so having Rick help out is a huge help to them and brings a benefit to taxpayers as well,” the first selectman said.

Mr Spreyer is even providing oversight on various maintenance contracts and other programs formerly done by various other staffers in town and district offices.

“So we’re already seeing his work producing savings on multiple contracts,” Mr Rosenthal said.

He added that when it appeared that key pieces of furnishing and fixtures would not be obtainable in time for the grand opening of the Newtown Community Center, Mr Spreyer worked with a particular vendor “to be sure those furnishings and fixtures were available and installed for opening day, and we ended up spending less than the line items in that budget.”

Finding Opportunities, Consortium Savings

Mr Spreyer said since he arrived, he has been encouraging department heads to look beyond familiar vendors and to explore putting long-standing purchasing programs out to bid.

“It’s important that we begin exploring new vendors and forging new relationships,” he said. “The biggest hazard in purchasing is falling in love with long-term vendors who can eventually become order takers that don’t feel they need to try and compete on pricing. Breeding constant competition among vendors is critical to getting the best benefits.”

Even if a potential bid is below the $5,000 threshold for mandatory purchasing review, Mr Spreyer said requesting bids from multiple vendors could still save a lot of money in the aggregate.

“If there’s a way to find savings, I’m recommending they get multiple quotes,” he said.

He is also seeing savings by combining individually budgeted projects under a single vendor, like the flooring work for the school district — which was initially three separate bids.

“Combining those separate projects into a single bid under a single vendor gave us a good financial advantage,” he said. “We just need to look at every single opportunity we can to squeeze more savings out of these projects and purchases,” Mr Spreyer explained.

On another set of projects involving sidewalk repairs and paving, Mr Spreyer said once he was able to combine and rebid the work, each component of the project came in lower than budgeted, including bids that came in from vendors that were originally higher.

Mr Spreyer said in recent months through working with Mr Bienkowski and the school district office, he has come to realize that a purchasing consortium used by the district is highly advantageous. And he concurs that anything that can be purchased through that consortium should be.

“Most of the consortium pricing is better than I could negotiate on behalf of the town,” he said, “because you have the purchasing power of nearly 150 participating schools and school district members. And when our needs or the scope of what we’re buying doesn’t match consortium pricing or availability, we’ll still bid it out on our own.”

Following a presentation with Mr Bienkowski in front of the Legislative Council last month, Mr Spreyer said he developed a new attitude about the consortium when it came to the level of savings it could produce.

“I think in the first few months here, there was a bit of naivety on my part coming from private sector purchasing where there was no such thing, and you were basically on your own to try and drive the best savings,” he said. “So becoming familiar with consortium benefits was just part of my learning curve now that I’m working in the government sector. And Ron [Bienkowski] was instrumental in helping me learn when to go to the consortium and when not to.”

Mr Spreyer said he is currently working with Mr Tait on finalizing a master purchasing account with Amazon, because up to now, purchasing through that online retailer was being done on dozens of separate accounts.

“What we had was what I describe as backwards purchasing, where the purchases were being made and approved after the fact,” he said. “We want there to be levels of approval before Amazon orders are made, so now the purchaser just drops the order into a cart for my review — then it goes to Bob [Tait] or Ron for a final sign off. It really streamlines book keeping and approval oversight, creating better tracking and accountability.”

Mr Spreyer is also taking advantage of networking and continuing education in the world of purchasing, and he is planning to attend a consortium workshop in the future as well as a symposium being held by the Purchasing Professionals Association of Connecticut.

“I’ll be looking to learn about new developments in municipal purchasing practices, and new developments with vendors. I know a lot of vendors will be at that conference, so maybe we’ll even be able to acquire a few new and more economical vendors as a result,” Mr Spreyer said.

Newtown’s Purchasing Agent Rick Spreyer works at his desk in the Municipal Center, September 9. As he approaches his one-year hiring anniversary, town officials say Mr Spreyer has helped a number of municipal departments realize money saving efficiencies and has used his expertise to save taxpayers enough on just three key projects, among the dozens he has been involved with, to more than make up for the first year expense of his salary and benefits cost. —Bee Photo, Voket
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