Decision Delayed Over Sole Source Vendor Questions

SALISBURY – Citing the need for additional information, officials in Wicomico County last week agreed to postpone their decision on a sole source vendor request.

Last week, the Wicomico County Council voted to postpone a resolution authorizing a software company as a sole source vendor for the county’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

“I’ll make a motion to postpone to allow for a work session to get a better idea of where the program is, where the county is with the funding …,” Councilman John Cannon said.

In last week’s meeting, Purchasing Agent Nicholas Rice and Planner Jesse Drewer came before the council seeking the authorization of Benevate Inc. as a sole source vendor. Officials noted the software, which is currently used by four other Maryland counties, would allow Wicomico to streamline its application and intake process for the grant-funded Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

“When we looked at this software and other software for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, we evaluated four different ones recommended by the state Department of Housing and Community Development,” Drewer said. “For the cost and the timeframe for implementation, this company was selected … It was the cheapest one we found with a significant cost factor of $50,000 to the next available software. This was only $29,000 for a one-year timeframe.”

To that end, officials told county leaders they were seeking a waiver of the competitive bidding process to select Benevate as a sole source vendor.

Councilman Ernie Davis, however, shared his concerns regarding sole source requests.

“It seems like everything is brought under sole source vending,” he said. “We haven’t had anything in the last couple years that’s been bid out.”

Rice explained that projects were bid out all the time, but that only sole sources requests required council approval.

“We do bids all the time,” he said. “They don’t come before the county council because they’re not required to. The only time you see these are when they are sole sources.”

Davis, however, said the council needed more information on the reasoning for a sole source request.

“We understand you guys know what you’re doing, but it would be nice if we knew what the process was …,” he said. “It would be nice to get this stuff beforehand.”

Rice noted that time was running out to approve the sole source request, as the software would be needed for the program’s application process.

“This software has a four-week timeline for implementing it,” Drewer added, “and our program did open today.”

Councilman John Cannon said he was more concerned about spending $29,000 on software that would only be used for a year.

“I’m not sure why we are considering spending that money for a rental assistance program when it’s only a temporary program,” he said.

Drewer explained the rental assistance program was funded through a $7 million grant the county received from the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development. He said the software would cut down on staff time and allow applicants to submit documents digitally.

“This would be funded through the $7 million grant,” he said. “The lifetime of this grant for expenditure is September of 2022. So we have 15 to 17 months of timeframe for this grant, and we just started incurring costs today.”

After further discussion, the council voted 6-1, with Councilman Bill McCain opposed, to postpone the authorization of the sole source vendor.

“It’s always good to have as much information as possible,” Councilman Josh Hastings said.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.