Pierce Johnson with Waste Services empties some recyclables last month. With a 7-0 vote during its solid waste workshop, Hillsborough County BOCC made way for opening its current garbage hauling contracts to open bids.
The future of the county’s waste collection and garbage hauling, valued at $60 million in just the first year, is now up for grabs, following a 7-0 vote last month by the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) during its solid waste workshop, in favor of opening its current contracts to bids.
Prior to the county’s December vote to open the bidding process, representatives of the county’s current garbage haulers, which are Waste Management, Waste Services and Republic Services have started a major campaign in an effort to halt any prospects of contract negotiating.
Through phone calls and e-mails, customers were encouraged to look at facts and statistics of the hauler’s 17-year record advocating the message: “Leave Our Trash Service Alone,” and “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Claiming a 99 percent satisfaction rating for Hillsborough County’s trash service along with an $11 for twice weekly pickup rate as well as the possibility of higher prices due to the start-up costs and the chance of the service going to once a week, the trio hoped to make a solid argument in hopes of keeping things as they are.
Getting the message or not, area residents showed up in force as commissioners heard comments offered by the vendors as well as the public; something that BOCC Chair Ken Haggan acknowledged is routinely not a part of the workshop.
Commenting on the issue, County Commissioner Al Higginbotham emphasized that Hillsborough County awarded contracts to the three solid waste haulers, in 1996, providing exclusive rights to both residential and commercial services, thus granting the three private companies an effective monopoly. “Since the original agreement was signed, more than 15 years ago, our contractors have generally met the requirements of their agreement,” Higginbotham said. “The County Commission has extended the contract once and approved rate increases four times. These extension and rate increases were approved without an open, competitive bid.”
Focusing on the changing times and technology, Higginbotham added that, while some argue about the existing system working well the issue is the need to price shop.
“The real question is, without an open and competitive bid process, how can we be sure we are getting the best deal for county residents and taxpayers”? Higginbotham said.
Commissioner Kevin Beckner reminded all present of the workshop’s purpose when he said, “You either support an open free market with open competitive bidding or you don’t; you believe that it’s the responsible thing to do for our taxpayers and as a good steward of our tax dollars to do so or you don’t. It’s a simple black-and-white issue for me today, and I believe that the appropriate thing to do is to go out for bid.”
Community issues council president Terry Kemple of Valrico drew attention to why he believed the open bidding is necessary.
“You can’t be sure you’re getting the best value if you’ve awarded a major contract with the same vendor for the last 15 years unless you instill some competition,” Kemple said. “You may find, like Hernando county did, that we can contract with the same vendors for substantially less money.”
Questioning the so called satisfaction rating claimed by the current haulers, Sun City resident Dana Dittmar did not hide her feelings either as she supported the re-bidding.
“There are significant service issues that challenge the 99 percent satisfaction number,” Dittmar said. “Sun City Center and Southshore area is united in our support of turning this over to an open bidding process.”
In his one minute to comment to the board Paul Wheat, also of Sun City Center took issue with the
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” message when he said, “My experience also tells me that if you don’t maintain it, it soon will break.”
Wheat added, “the most positive aspect of rebidding a service contract is that in many cases the incumbent firm, by taking a hard look at its own operations and sharpening its pencil and by the use of new technology, is again selected as the lowest responsible bidder.”
Of course, the outcome of the bidding remains to be seen and the new contracts will begin in 2013.