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BernCo contractors may have to follow county rules

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Among the complaints business owners have lodged against Bernalillo County’s proposed paid leave mandate is that it would raise their costs and make them less competitive when bidding on projects.

But providing employees such a benefit may eventually be the only way a company can qualify for a Bernalillo County contract – or even some of its economic development incentives.

County Commissioners Maggie Hart Stebbins and Debbie O’Malley said during Tuesday’s board meeting that they want a new policy requiring firms seeking county work to comply with county ordinances, even if they operate outside their jurisdiction. They asked county staff to work on crafting such a policy for the board’s consideration this fall. The county has 863 contracts worth about $141 million, a spokeswoman said Friday.

“It’s not fair for us to ask for companies (in the county) to come to a certain standard, and we give folks a contract when maybe they’re not even meeting those standards,” O’Malley said during the meeting.

She and Hart Stebbins said they also expect compliance from companies that seek industrial revenue bonds – which come with tax breaks – and allocations under the Local Economic Development Act.

“Whether it be through procurement or industrial revenue bonds or LEDA or whatever, what I would like to do is propose an overarching policy that would set certain standards for any entity that receives those dollars,” Hart Stebbins said.

Their comments came after a public hearing on the county’s proposed paid sick leave legislation, which has drawn mixed reactions in the community. Opponents criticized the bill as unnecessary government intervention that could increase the costs of doing business, while supporters said it would enable workers to stay home when ill or take time off to care for sick loved ones without fear of losing pay or their jobs.

The commission is not expected to vote on the matter until August since an updated version was released Tuesday. The latest proposal would require companies with at least two employees to offer all workers at least one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours worked up to 56 hours per year. The recent changes include reclassifying the benefit as paid leave instead of paid “sick” leave so that employees could use it for any purpose.

O’Malley said in an interview that requiring county contract bidders and economic incentive applicants to follow county laws could have an impact beyond where the laws are otherwise enforceable. The paid leave bill, for example, would only apply in the unincorporated areas of Bernalillo County, such as the East Mountains and the South Valley and not in the city of Albuquerque. But many county contractors are based in the city.

“I think we have to demonstrate that this is important enough to require of businesses in the unincorporated areas and that (businesses that) bid on projects have to comply as well,” she said.

The commissioners publicly raised the issue prior to approving a series of contracts during Tuesday’s meeting. That included an on-call agreement with TLC Plumbing & Utility after its CEO Dale Armstrong spoke against the county’s paid sick leave proposal, saying that he already offers the benefit but that one-size-fits-all government mandates do not always work out well.

Hart Stebbins asked county staff what would happen if the commission did not approve the contract. Fleet and Facilities Director Mary Murnane said she would have a “minor heart attack” given the need for the services, urging the commission to sign off this week and revisit it at a later date should the county implement any procurement policy changes.

Hart Stebbins said she recognized the company had bid for the contract under the existing framework and ultimately cast a supportive vote in its 3-0 approval.

“It’s just kind of an interesting irony that we had somebody talking to us today opposing our sick leave ordinance who now is asking for county dollars,” Hart Stebbins said before the vote.

Armstrong said in an interview that TLC provides employees paid sick leave – “it’s actually probably one of the reasons my company has grown” – though he wants to see the county find more common ground with those opposing the ordinance.

But he said he does not object to ensuring companies abide by county ordinances before giving them county contracts.

“I think that’s fair,” he said. “When they create rules, our jobs as vendors are to follow their rules, so I think that makes perfect sense.”