Patricia J. Thompson is an elected official on the Yarmouth, Maine, Town Council and serves on the Policy Committee of the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System. She is the former Deputy Assistant Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Transportation and is currently a third-year law student at the University of Maine School of Law.
Home rule is generally understood to mean the degree of autonomy municipalities have been granted by the state constitution or the legislature to enact laws and policies to govern their local affairs.1 Almost every state in the Union permits its municipalities to exercise some degree of local autonomy to procure the goods and services needed to govern their communities.2 With the Maine legislature’s implementation of home rule in 1970, almost 500 of Maine’s municipalities were granted broad powers to govern their own affairs, including the authority to purchase the goods and services needed to govern their respective communities and to collect property taxes to pay for these expenditures.3 With the advent of home rule, municipal procurement became increasingly decentralized; soon there were almost as many procurement policies as there were municipalities, as each municipality exercised its home rule authority to act as its own purchasing agent.
Decentralization proved costly to municipal taxpayers because not only did they have to pay for the costs of goods and services to run their towns, but they were also burdened by higher property taxes to pay for the additional costs of a decentralized and fragmented procurement system: inconsistent practices and procedures that discourage vendors from competing, duplication of scarce resources, lack of capability and expertise towns could not afford on their own, loss of leverage without volume purchasing, and increasing administrative costs. Maine’s municipalities can reduce or eliminate these costs and make purchasing under home rule more affordable by combining their purchases under a well-designed procurement strategy “conducted by, or on behalf of, one or more [municipalities and towns].”4 This strategy is called “cooperative purchasing.”5