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Solid waste collection contracts move to front burner

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Should the county administration open trash collection contract bidding on behalf of its citizens?

By MELODY JAMESON

With contract expirations on the horizon, a major infrastructure question looms for South Hillsborough County: Should the county administration open trash collection contract bidding on behalf of its citizens?

It’s a complex issue, involving matters of competition, of potentials for consumer rate reductions or increases, of services needed in changing times.

At least one county commissioner is answering the question with an emphatic “yes.” And, at least one South County organization representing a substantial number of homeowners is leaning in the same direction.

On the other hand, a Tampa consultant representing current trash haulers in Hillsborough County is circulating a flyer asserting there’s no reason to change a system that is working.

And at least one major player in the trash hauling game, excluded in the past, is campaigning for a place at the table.

The battle lines are being drawn as an early skirmish is shaping up for next week.

Hillsborough County currently contracts with Waste Management, Inc., Waste Services, Inc., and Republic Services, Inc., to pick up and transport trash as well as recyclables for disposal or reuse. Their agreements with the county expire in 2013.

Each of the companies is national or international in scope, headquartered outside Florida. The companies’ trucks are familiar sights on South County roads.

The contractual agreements, with periodic adjustments, have been in place since 1996 – or substantially unchanged for 15 years.

Single family homeowners pay for the services annually – in a combined amount of about $207 for both collection and disposal - when paying their property tax bills. Fees for collection and disposal from commercial entities can be based on tonnage. Similarly, owners of rental properties such as apartments complexes, mobile home parks or even leased single family dwellings are billed for the services and then well may pass on the charges directly to tenants or bundle them with other fees.

Trash collection, hauling and disposal in Hillsborough, taken together, is a $40 million operation annually, Al Higginbotham, District IV county commissioner, said last week as he talked about his conviction it’s time to bring competitive bidding to the functions. In fact, it’s long overdue, he added, noting that he has called for putting the tasks out for bid in the past, but was outvoted by fellow county commissioners at the time.

Changing economic climates as well as technological advances in connection with overhead factors such as truck fuel could translate to lower rates for South Hillsborough homeowners if all the eligible haulers were allowed to bid for the collection and disposal work, Higginbotham suggested. At the very least, he added, greater competition could drive consumer fees down.

This view was echoed by Keith Banasiak, regional vice president for Waste Pro, a regional waste collection company “serving over 1.5 customers each month in more than 123 jurisdictions in the southeastern United States..” Addressing a property owners association recently in Sun City Center, Banasiak noted that when Hernando County wrapped up a competitive bid process last summer the monthly resident rate dropped from $11.44 per month to $7.25. “If Hillsborough County opted for a competitive procurement and achieved results similar to Hernando County, we estimate that residential waste collection and recycling savings would likely be over $100 million over a ten year franchise term,” the executive stated.
The Leytham Group, consultant for the current haulers, in a distributed marketing piece titled “If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It” , claims that “Low cost services” and “99 % customer satisfaction” call for simply renewing , perhaps with adjustments, the current hauler contracts.

Displaying pictures of accumulated garbage, referring to dogs and wild animals rooting through uncollected trash and quoting officials as appearing supportive of the existing contracts, the Leytham piece suggests that any changes are likely to increase both consumer costs and dissatisfactions.

Higginbotham is quoted in the flyer as stating that calls and complaints – presumably about trash collection – “have dropped considerably” since he was elected to the Board of County Commissioners. However, when asked about the quote last week, he asserted firmly that his words “were taken way out of context.”

The district commissioner also said he plans to raise the matter of competitive bidding on trash hauling contracts during the December 14 BOCC meeting. His objective, he said, will be formal request from the board to staff to begin drafting RFPs - Requests for Proposals - in preparation for opening the trash collection bidding process in 2012 so that all eligible operators can participate, including the current companies.

He is likely to have some local support in that effort. The matter was discussed recently by directors of the 11,000-member SCC Community Association. Concerned about the lack of competition in the contracting process, the board reached consensus, President Ed Barnes said this week, agreeing that a bidding procedure applied in connection with solid waste collection well could reduce the fees now paid by each CA member. Barnes said he has advised each of the county commissioners of his board’s position on the matter and in favor of Higginbotham’s proposal aimed at soliciting bids. Several board members also are expected to attend the December 14 BOCC meeting, he added.

“Hillsborough County is in a unique position to reduce residential waste collection and recycling costs,” noted Banasiak, adding that both quality and types of collection services could be improved through the competitive bidding process.

A telephone call to The Leytham Group by The Observer was not returned.

County commissioners representing South Hillsborough include the district commissioners, Higginbotham and Sandra Murman, as well as at-large commissioners Kevin Beckner, Ken Hagan and Mark Sharpe.

Copyright 2011 Melody Jameson

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