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Surprise bid postpones buggy-tour selection

BY BRANDON HONIG - The Beaufort Gazette, South Carolina - October 20, 2006

BEAUFORT -- The winners of Beaufort's first sealed-bid auction for the right to operate buggy tours in the city are undetermined as officials consider an unexpected proposal that offers a percentage of the company's annual revenue.

Beaufort allows two companies to run horse-carriage tours. The City Council decided last year to hold a sealed-bid process for those two slots after the city's attorney, Bill Harvey, said competition laws mandate companies be given an opportunity to gain entry into the market.

The winners of Tuesday's bidding process will gain the right to operate in Beaufort from 2007 through 2011. From 1995 through 2006, the city's two carriage-tour companies paid $10,000 annually.

Of the three companies that offered bids, two proposed flat payments while the third offered a percentage of its annual revenue as an option.

Sea Island Carriage, which is trying to gain entry into the market, bid $26,106 per year. SouthurnRose Buggy Tours, which currently runs tours in Beaufort, bid $26,113 annually.

The city's other tour company, however, submitted a bid that assistant city manager Matt Horn said "did not fall into the format we anticipated." Carolina Buggy Tours offered to pay either $10,000 or 4 percent of its annual ticket sales, whichever is more.

"Because of that one, we're having to step back and look at the process," Horn said. "We have to consider how to value that."

City manager Scott Dadson will make the final decision on the bids.

A Carolina Buggy spokeswoman declined to comment, but SouthurnRose owner Peter White said 4 percent of his company's annual sales is about $10,000.

White said he thinks Carolina's bid should be thrown out.

"There were instructions in the bidding process online, and those did not include the description of the bid that came out of the Carolina Buggy Tours business," White said. "To have it not rejected immediately ... we were left with our mouths open and no answer."

The online request for sealed bids said only, "The minimum bid for each slot is $10,000 per year."

Horn said the city hopes to have a decision within the next week, especially because the carriage companies need to begin planning for next year.

"If (Carolina) displaces one of the other two companies, we want to give that company a chance to plan for not doing business next year," Horn said. "That's the end of their business."

If Sea Island is awarded a slot, the company will have 30 days to prove its horses and equipment meet city standards.

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