Hillsborough County's business of trash will open for new bids

12/15/11 Janelle Irwin
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Hillsborough Commissioners voted unanimously yesterday to open up the county’s solid waste collection contracts to competitive bidding. It could end the 17-year monopoly held by three trash hauling companies. The decision came after dozens of residents pushed for more competition that they hope would lead to better rates and improved service.

The board room, located in the County Building in downtown Tampa was standing room only. Most of the 100 or so observers wore stickers emblazoned with one word: "BID." Another held a sign that read “Free Markets, not Crony Capitalism”. The issue of who should take out the county’s trash brought people together from all sides of the political spectrum. Tea Partier Beth Orvosh stood with Democrats she usually opposes in urging commissioners to vote for competitive bidding.

“I’ve been very happy with Waste Management. But when he says, I’ll lower your price on a future negotiated price today, why hasn’t it been done already? I mean, if he’s willing to do that on just a renegotiation, what do you think would happen with the bid? Really, I mean, I just wanted to smack the guy.”

That guy is Rick Kania. He’s the senior district manager for Waste Management, one of the three companies contracted by Hillsborough County since 1996.

“Because I’m willing to go on record today and honor any rate reductions that these negotiations might develop and we will honor those today. Let me be clear, any renegotiations that result in a rate reduction, Waste Management is willing to honor that rate today. We can put money in the taxpayers’ pockets today and save the county and its staff a lot of time and money.”

Just four of the 38 speakers during public comment supported renegotiating with only the existing companies. One of them, Forrest Davis, is the vice president of Kings Point Federation in Sun City Center. He said the some 9,000 voters his federation represents are happy with their trash hauler, WSI.

“We took a survey of our residents and asked them what their satisfaction was for WSI and it came out 99%, just like some of the statistics. Our survey also asked our resident voters if they wanted our board of directors to seek a new provider and they said absolutely not.”

Davis’s claim contradicted another Sun City Center resident. Dana Dittmar is the executive director for their Chamber of Commerce. She said residents stand in full support of competitive bidding.

“We support a strong competitive market and the opportunity for all appropriate businesses to participate in a fair bidding process. We believe any benefit of renegotiation can also be obtained through the RFP process. And as one of the persons who hears complaints from residents and businesses alike, there are significant service issues that challenge the 99% satisfaction number.”

After public comment, Commissioner Ken Hagan said even though he supports opening the process for outside bids, he can’t guarantee that process would mean lower rates and quality service. That’s also a concern of Hillsborough County resident Rosemarie Middleton.

“Quality of service as well as price should be the issue here today because you wanted to save money; you outsourced the mowing of medians, etc. throughout Hillsborough County. Today you can see the poor quality of work that is being performed by these contractors throughout the county. Mowing is what they do, there is no clean-up in and around any of the plants and now there are weeds growing as tall as the plants and there’s trash everywhere. When those contracts are up, who’s going to clean up the areas that are not getting attention? I don’t want that to happen to our garbage collection service?”

Commissioner Les Miller said he held off on forming an opinion on this issue because he thought it was important to hear from the public and vendors.

“One of the things that I’ve heard is that I was a swing vote on this. I don’t know how they said that, but they said I was a swing vote. Well, if I am the swing vote, the swing has stopped and I have landed. And I have landed on the side of opening this up for bidding.”

While Miller originally withheld judgment, Commissioner Sandra Murman flip-flopped all together. She admitted that just a couple months ago she was fully in support of renegotiating contracts with the three exiting companies instead of an open bid process.

“Every single individual is concerned about the dollars in their wallet, in their purse, in their pocket, every minute of every day. I’m in Wal-Mart over the holidays; I’m in Publix over the holidays, see the mom always saying ‘no, go get the cheaper one; go get the less expensive one’. I’m on the board of Hillsborough Kids. We had to just suck it up and accept the fact that our contract had to go out to bid.”

Following the workshop, Commissioner Al Higginbotham told reporters he thinks the large turnout may have influenced the commission’s vote. In addition to Waste Management and WSI, the county currently has a contract with Republic Services. Those contracts are set to expire in 2013. County staff now has to come up with bid specifications to present to the commission for approval. That process is expected to take several months.

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