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Wed, Feb. 26

Vending contract doesn't give Mohave County enough choices, say supervisors
Program is meant to provide opportunity for the blind

KINGMAN - Mohave County should be getting something back from annual vending machine sales at county buildings, calling it "cost sharing" rather than a "kickback," Supervisor Buster Johnson said Monday.

"We don't even get a chance to negotiate prices," Johnson said in making a motion to put the vending services contract out to bid.

The Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 against approving a vending services agreement with the Arizona Department of Economic Security's Business Enterprise Program, continuing the item for 60 days.

It would give County Attorney Bill Ekstrom time to review the federal Randolph-Sheppard Act to make sure the county can seek other available services through a Request for Proposal, or RFP.

A report of the vending facility program showed $15.1 million gross sales throughout the state from Oct. 1, 2013, to Sept. 30, 2014. Gross profit was $10.2 million and operating profit was nearly $3 million.

The vending services program authorized by the Randolph-Sheppard Act provides people who are blind with employment opportunities and self-support through the operation of vending machines on county, state and federal property.

Johnson noted that only three of the 249 employees listed on the contract are legally blind.

Procurement director Annie Newton-Fruhwirth said the county is required to abide by the federal law and at this time is required to use the Business Enterprise Program.

"If we don't proceed with this agreement, it's going to have to go through legislative change," she said.

The county would not be in compliance with federal law, Ekstrom added.

"What can they do? Are they going to take our vending machines from us?" Chairman Steve Moss asked. "Why is it in front of us if we have no choice?"

Fruhwirth said the law was amended in 1974 from "preference" to "priority" for vending contracts employing the visually impaired.

"I do believe it is helping those who are blind because they are getting income from the contract," she said. There are currently no blind entrepreneurs in this area to take on the vendor services contract, she added.

"If we don't have other bids, what are we giving priority over?" Moss asked. "I don't have anything to give them priority over."

Moss said nobody on the board wants to disobey federal law, but "we don't like monopolies and we're not sure this program is benefiting the sight-impaired."

Supervisor Hildy Angius said the more she read the agreement, the angrier she became.

"I'm sure if you could dig into who's making money, we wouldn't be as willing to get into it for 15 years," she said of the vending contract. "Anytime the government can tell you what to do and who to hire ... I've been told we need to get competitive bids and the government comes in and says, 'Do this.'"

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