Hillsborough County is one step closer to new trash pick-up service

09/14/12 Janelle Irwin
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Hillsborough County is one step closer to revamping its longstanding trash hauling monopoly. At a workshop yesterday, County Commissioners voted to move forward with a competitive bidding process that will force the existing companies to compete with others from other states for county contracts. After more than 8-months of conversation, Commissioner Mark Sharpe said the next step needed to be taken immediately.

“Any delay would potentially put at risk all of this work. Any delay for any reason could put at risk to the tax payer who are ultimately look to us to make the hard decision, put at risk the ability to, I think get perhaps even better service at a better rate.”

Three companies, WSI, Waste Management and Republic Services have had a stronghold over Hillsborough’s trash pick-up for 17-years. Their contract is up next September. Mitch Kessler, the consultant hired to oversee the request for bid process helped the county come up with a plan to allow companies from the Southeastern United States to bid for Hillsborough’s business.

“So, right now we have twice a week garbage, once a week yard waste, once a week recycling. It would stay exactly the same as what we’re proposing here so we could have a price to compare to what you’re getting today.”

It also lays out three other service options for residents. Kessler said that includes the same service, but instead of having workers dumping the trash into trucks a mechanical arm would to it. Another option would be to reduce trash pick up service to once a week.

“What would be the least expensive way to do this? Well, you would have that once a week garbage, but you’d have every other week recycling instead of weekly. Every other week, you’d probably use a larger cart like this for recycling. That’s really up there in the dollar signs reflect – the marketplace will determine what the pricing is, but the dollar signs going from three to two and a half to two to one is what logic would tell you would be the high to low end of the cost of those services.”

The process would also re-write outdated district lines. Kessler said right now, they are disproportionate because of changes in population since the last contract started in 1996.

“We’re suggesting five districts where you’d end up with three to five vendors and remember, not today, but in the future you’ll select the number of vendors and I’m going to show you how we’re proposing that to work. So there’s five districts, they all now have about 50,000 households in it. So that’s how they’re divided up, the five districts. The concept is, that the vendor could be awarded up to two districts. The upside of that is it creates competitions. Those that want to provide more residential service will bid more aggressively.”

During previous meetings, public comment had suggested overwhelming support for a competitive bid. There were a few county residents and some commissioners who were concerned that looking for the lowest bidder would compromise service. But Kessler’s plan alleviates that concern.

“We want to know how long you’ve been in business. If you haven’t been in business for a significant period of time, we can’t be assured you could do the job.”

And he also wants to make sure companies have the resources to do what they’re contracted to do.

“A financial guarantee that the company is financially sound, sufficient resources to provide the required equipment, the skills, the personnel to perform the job and lastly, a performance bond – these vendor qualifications are serious, important and need to be met to ensure that you get the quality of service that you want.”

But Kessler’s competitive bidding plan didn’t come out completely unscathed. Commissioner Victor Crist moved a series of amendments including making sure residents could choose the size of their trash cans to fit their homes and making sure companies kept their fleets in good working order without the county being too regulatory. All of his ideas were adopted except for one. That would have changed language to only allow bids from states who border the Gulf of Mexico.

“I just want to make sure we’re working with companies that are used to working in hurricane environments.”

Instead, commissioners, including Kevin Beckner, voted to keep the “Southeastern United States” language, but add Texas to it.

“If this is a large enough business, we talk about wanting to have companies relocate here. We talk about open market and fair competition and wanting to let the free markets determine and get the best service for the best price for our constituents. I don’t think you achieve that when you limit it and you limit the competition. I think you let the competition bear everything out, you review the qualifications of the companies, their abilities to handle a storm and then you make your decision that way but not exclude them to begin with.”

Beckner said the proposed bidding guidelines are stringent enough to weed out the bad seeds.

“That with the qualifications, the minimum qualifications that our County Administrator has put forward, I think that should ensure that we have some people that know what they’re doing and that can put out the quality service.”

Board chair Ken Hagan wasn’t present for the meeting. Commissioner Sandra Murman wanted to delay a vote until the commission’s regular meeting next week, but that measure failed with a three vote split. Staff hopes to award contracts to companies by January to allow time for a transition. Companies who will haul trash in Hillsborough will most likely have to provide automated service. The current bidding process would allow nine months to make the change.

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