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Bidding for trash collection well underway

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image Trash is big business in Hillsborough County. Photo Mitch Traphagen

County offictials are expecting bids from potential trash collection vendors interested in a piece of Hillsborough County’s business currently valued as a $40 million operation.

By MELODY JAMESON

Next week county officials will be talking trash.

By Friday, they are expecting bids from potential trash collection vendors interested in a piece of Hillsborough County’s business currently valued as a $40 million operation. Earlier in the week, on Monday, the bids from companies interested in hauling recyclables from around the area are due.

It’s the first time in at least 15 years that contracts for the big money business of garbage handling have been subjected to a come-one, come-all competitive bid process.

And it is anticipated that savings in the millions of dollars can be realized – as well as passed on to consumers – with new approaches, including division of the county into five collection districts.

To get there. however, both officials and consumers may have to work out and pin down the multiple possible combinations of services involving what is hauled when from where.

Since 1996, trash, garbage and recyclables have been picked from homes and businesses across Hillsborough and dispensed or disposed of by three vendors, Waste Management, Inc., Waste Services, Inc., and Republic Services, Inc. Their contracts have been renewed periodically with few adjustments over the years and will expire next in September, 2013.

Residential customers who are homeowners pay for the curbside service on a twice-a-week basis through their annual property tax bills at a yearly rate in the low $200 bracket. Similarly, owners of rental properties such as apartment complexes or mobile home parks are billed for the services and then may pass on appropriate portions of the bill to their individual tenants. Fees for pick-up and disposal from business entities can be based on the tonnage.

A year ago, Commissioner Al Higginbotham, who represents District IV stretching from Plant City to Sun City near the Hillsborough-Manatee county line and including most of South County, began suggesting to fellow commissioners and community leaders that allowing all possible vendors to submit bids could both save money and address services needed but not currently provided.

In December, commissioners agreed to begin a wide open bid process and invitations to bid went out last month. The 102-page package of instructions and criteria was distributed through the electronic system known as Onvia DemandStar , according to John Hollingshead, procurement manager in the county’s business and support services department. The system is widely used by both bid seekers and bid makers.

Higginbotham estimated this week that eight to 11 trash and recyclables collectors located around the Southeast U.S. are potential vendors for Hillsborough County. They could bid to furnish services to one or more of the five collection districts. South Hillsborough, from Tampa Bay to the Hillsborough-Polk county line and south of the Alafia River comprises the fifth collection area.

Companies bidding for any of Hillsborough’s trash business will meet a number of criteria substantiating such factors as their experience, financial stability, bonding capacity and law suit liabilities, Hollingshead said. Potential collection vendors, for instance, will have provided their residential and commercial services for three of the last five years involving at least 30,000 households. They will have the financial ability to serve two of Hillsborough’s districts, supply a $300,000 bid bond and post a $3 million performance bond if a successful bidder. Their top managements will have at least five years of experience in the solid waste collection industry, have no claims exceeding $100,000 pressed against them in the last five years and produce four references covering 12 recent months of services provided.

Vendors bidding to handle Hillsborough’s recyclables on a county-wide rather than district basis will meet similar criteria demonstrating successful and substantive experience, sufficient financial resources and limited legal claims liabilities, Hollingshead added. These possible vendors also will have the appropriate Florida certifications. Their bid bonds are pegged at $75,000, with the chosen bidder’s eventual performance bond set at $250,000.

Once in hand, all bids will be evaluated for sufficiency of the response in his department, Hollingshead said, and then forwarded to managers in the county’s public utilities department for additional precise comparison with Hillsborough’s solid waste handling needs.

Before staff recommendations are made to commissioners, it may be necessary to check out potential vendors’ facilities, the procurement manager added. And, at some point, questions such as the number of collections in a given span of time, the specific days of collection, the types and volumes of collected materials in each district all must be addressed, he indicated.

Ultimately, the effort will be worthwhile to the county and its citizens, Higginbotham asserted.

Encouraging more competition in the bidding process does not reflect poor service by the current vendors, he added, but recognizes that new technologies are applicable and new methods of collection come into practice that may be advantageous to the county. And competition for the business simply is likely to lead to reduced rates in Hillsborough which has had some of the highest solid waste handling costs in the state, he said.

In addition, he emphasized the importance of working into the collection system under future contracts the pick-up of what he called “bulk items – tires, couches, refrigerators.” At the present time, such large pieces are not collected by the haulers and may not be transported to county disposal sites by residents and therefore frequently turn up dumped as litter on roadsides, he noted.

Higginbotham suggested a commission workshop on the entire trash collection subject may be scheduled after staff evaluations of the bids have been outlined. The new contracts must be drawn and executed by September, he noted, adding “it’s a very fluid process now, but the expectation is we’ll see significant savings.”

Copyright 2012 Melody Jameson

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