A new Charleston County program aimed at boosting the number of minority- and women-owned businesses that land county contracts is struggling to get off the ground.

The county received six bids on a project to build the second section of the Bees Ferry Landfill. It was the first project to include the "Joint Venture" requirement. Bids ranged from $6.15 million to $10.31 million.

The lowest bid that met the Joint Venture requirement was $7.95 million, $1.8 million more than the lowest overall bid.

The Joint Venture program requires that businesses bidding on such contracts must do so in partnership with another business. Owners of the two businesses must be of different races or genders, said Keith Bustraan, the county's chief financial officer. County officials decide on a case-by-case basis which contracts will carry the Joint Venture designation.

Because the landfill project would be so much more expensive under the Joint Venture program, County Council voted 7-2 Tuesday to drop the requirement and solicit new bids on the project.

Councilmen Teddie Pryor and Henry Darby were opposed to the change.

Bustraan has said the idea behind the Joint Venture program is to force more experienced business owners to include minority or women business owners as partners. When women and minority businesses are included as partners, they will have the opportunity to sharpen their managerial skills, he said. Similar programs have been successful, he said, including one in Atlanta.

Councilman Joe McKeown said before Tuesday's meeting that he was in favor of getting new bids on the contract and looking for the lowest cost for taxpayers. The council "is trying to accomplish a good thing" with the Joint Venture program, he said. But taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for it. "The bids have to be competitive," he said.

Pryor, however, said he thinks the council should have followed through and hired the company that had the lowest bid and met the Joint Venture requirement.

In the past, the county simply awarded contracts to the lowest bidder, he said. And the result was far too few minority- and women-owned businesses landing county contracts.

By deciding to drop the Joint Venture requirement, he said, "not only did we fail the vendors, we failed the system as well."

Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or dknich@postandcourier.com.