Crow Wing County commissioners picked a combined bid for its 2014 printing and publishing bid, which will provide publication in three newspapers serving the county.
The Brainerd Dispatch, Echo/Journal and Crosby-Ironton Courier provided a single combined bid, gaining the county’s publishing duties. The vote was unanimous.
The bid covers miscellaneous printing and publishing, including the delinquent tax list and commissioner and board of equalization proceedings.
The Dispatch was the county’s official paper for decades until 2013 when the county awarded the bid to the weekly NewsHopper. The Dispatch combined bid wasn’t considered in 2013 because it arrived late for the bid opening. The NewsHopper is a free publication that reaches people through saturated bulk mailing to some areas and is distributed to businesses, such as grocery stores and restaurants.
In 2012, the publication cost to the county was $52,285 to the Dispatch to publish the delinquent tax list, tax-forfeited land sale notice, notice of tax forfeiture, legal ads, and the financial statement. The county accepted the bid from NewsHopper Publications, which provides a free weekly through targeted mailing and distribution at restaurants and grocery stores among other sites.
In 2013, the county paid the NewsHopper $59,950. The county had one more land sale last year than in 2012. And the NewsHopper used a larger font size at 9 point compared to the 7.5 font the Dispatch traditionally used in previous years. The larger font size on advertising resulted in a higher cost.
For 2014, the Dispatch combined bid was $9.87 per column inch and the NewsHopper bid was $7 per column inch.
The weekly NewsHopper publication date on Saturdays limited county flexibility in meeting state statutes for publishing notification for bids and legal notices, according to a report by Leatte Magnan, county purchasing agent and deputy auditor. Magnan said no issues were reported with the NewsHopper’s performance.
The NewsHopper is mailed to addresses in Brainerd, Crosby, Deerwood, Emily, Garrison and Ironton in Crow Wing County but is not mailed to addresses in Baxter, Crosslake, Fort Ripley, Jenkins, Merrifield, Nisswa or Pequot Lakes. The Dispatch has paid subscribers in all the above listed cities with the exception of Jenkins, which has coverage with the Echo/Journal.
Commissioner Paul Koering asked how much wider the coverage would be with the combined bid versus the NewsHopper and which bid saved taxpayers the most money. Magnan said the Dispatch has the wider circulation and based on the bid was less expensive.
The combined bid almost doubles the area served compared to the NewsHopper, Brainerd Dispatch Publisher Tim Bogenschutz said.
Commissioner Paul Thiede asked if the county could specify the font size in its bid. Administrator Tim Houle said the county has never in the past asked for the size of the font and has never entered into the business decision of each newspaper. There is an element to natural competition in the field, Houle said. He said it was only after looking at the publication costs between the NewsHopper and the Dispatch that the question was raised about what could have driven the costs of the NewsHopper to be higher than the Dispatch when the cost per column inch was lower. That led to the discovery of the larger font size.
Houle said for the county to weigh in and say a newspaper ought to change its business practice in order to achieve a lower cost for the county would be different than the way the county treats most other vendors.
“We don’t usually venture into telling them how to do their business practice, we usually let them decide their business practice and we pick the cheaper of the two,” Houle said.
Thiede said that was not his intent. Thiede noted he has questioned repeatedly the need to publish legals and asked why the county couldn’t dictate the size.
Magnan said it hasn’t been an issue and with the competition now it can be seen as an issue. County Attorney Don Ryan said the county is required by law to accept a qualified bid and he didn’t think the county could require a font size at this date, but could research it for 2015.
Bogenschutz said the font size of 7.5 was picked for readability and cost savings but the combined bid would be willing to work with the county on a font size.
Commissioner Rachel Reabe Nystrom said in the bid process the more specific the county can be the more sense it makes to compare apples to apples.
“I think that’s for next year,” Nystrom said.
Thiede asked NewsHopper Publisher Eric Heglund if he would continue to be a willing bidder. Nystrom told Heglund he didn’t have to answer that question. Heglund said he wanted to continue because of benefits to taxpayer and could adjust the type size.
Commissioner Doug Houge asked if the county could rebid for publishing this year. Ryan said it would take several weeks to do that. He also said it was his opinion the county would have to determine it didn’t have a qualified bid in order to reject them and there wasn’t legal ground to make that determination based on what he heard at the meeting.
Nystrom moved to award the bid to the Dispatch combined bid because of the lower cost and higher circulation. Koering seconded. The second financial publication was awarded to the Courier with its bid at a lower cost than the NewsHopper’s.