Hillsborough County Commission trash talk is just talk for now

10/13/11 Janelle Irwin
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Wednesday Hillsborough County Commissioners set out to decide how to breathe some new life into the county’s business of taking out the trash. But the board couldn’t agree on how to proceed.

They went back and forth for three hours. Mitch Kessler, the county’s solid-waste consultant, recommended the board open the 3-company near-monopoly to competitive bidding. But county staff estimates that could cost 60-thousand dollars. Commissioner Kevin Beckner said he sits as a judge for the people and wants to make sure they get the best value when a new contract is made.

“And the two issues are do we go ahead and enter into negotiations with only with the current haulers or do we take it out for a competitive bid? I guess my question is, if we entered into this contract back in 1996 and we had 151,000 households and now we fast forward to today there’s 254,000 households. If we have never re-visited the re-drawing of those districts or taking into consideration that we’re dealing more with volume as well as efficiencies by serving more households, would that not dramatically impact our potential rate.”

Commissioners Beckner, Al Higginbotham and Mark Sharpe wanted the board to give immediate direction to staff to open the bidding process to qualified companies. But Commissioner Les Miller said the board was acting outside the original intention for the workshop.

“If we had put it on there that we were going to discuss and vote on decisions of groundwork of contracts, that would have been a horse of a different color. And the public would have understood that and I think the vendors would have understood that. I would have understood that. I asked the question when I first came in and I was told no. And this says discussion of contract options, it does not say adoption of contract options. We have given our staff a boat load of things they can go back and look at.”

And Sharpe said he is open to a competitive bidding process in hopes to drive down prices, but is concerned about the transition if the existing three companies are ousted. He said when the board first entered into contracts in 1996, the process was more than a headache for ratepayers.

“I don’t think there’s any way we can low ball the mess that we had for at least 8-years. And I wasn’t a commissioner during that time. I just know when I got here in 2005, we were still getting a lot of complaints.”

The group continued grappling with how to take out the trash. There was a motion, than an amendment to the motion, then a substitute motion. It was Commissioner Ken Hagan who finally put an end to the debate.

“I am going to try and bring this in for a landing. I’m going to offer a substitute to the substitute motion that we schedule a workshop where we take public comment and the goal is to determine how we’re going to change the way we do business and what our goals are for the new contract, irrespective of its renegotiating with the current vendors or if its going out for a competitive procurement.”

Hagan’s motion passed so the board will schedule another workshop to hear public comment as well as presentations from vendors. A date has not been determined, but the board will have three options including retaining the current companies or opening a competitive bidding process. The current contract doesn’t expire for another two years.

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