BY PRU SOWERS
KONKLIFE STAFF WRITER
Fallout from the recent City Commission vote to award a $53 million contract to incumbent Waste Management is cutting a wide swath, including resignations and an anticipated increase in trash collection rates.
And some city officials are worried that the new contract, which increases trash collection from once to twice a week, will gut the city’s state-mandated effort to increase recycling rates. All Florida municipalities must achieve a 75 percent recycling rate by 2020, a goal set by the state legislature in 2008.
In a hotly-debated vote on April 23, city commissioners voted 4-3 to award the seven-year contract to Waste Management over the only other bidder, Advanced Disposal Services. Advanced was the low bidder on three of the four collection options requested by city officials. However, Waste Management was the low bidder on a fourth option that increased services and boosted the cost of the contract $14 million. A report prepared by staff in the solid waste department recommended against the fourth option, which doubles residential trash collection from once to twice a week and turns operations of the city-owned transfer station over to Waste Management.
Key West’s recycling rate was “embarrassing low” for more than a decade, stuck at seven percent, according to Will Thompson, the city’s solid waste coordinator. But that rate jumped to 22 percent last July, approximately three weeks after the city reduced residential trash collection from twice to once a week. Restoring the twice a week pick-up will reduce the incentive to recycle, Thompson said, because trash cans won’t fill up as quickly, allowing lazy property owners to ignore recycling bins and throw all their garbage, recyclables included, into the green can.
“If your trash can is overflowing, you’re more likely to fill up the recycle cart as well,” said city Utilities Manager Jay Gewin.
City Commissioner Tony Yaniz, who supported Waste Management in the 4-3 vote, said he had spoken to Greg Sullivan, the Waste Management Regional Director, and received an assurance that the trash hauler would be willing to renegotiate the contract if recycling rates decline under the twice a week collection schedule.
“If recycling rates begin to drop again we need to take a cautious look. Then we go to Greg Sullivan to revisit it,” Yaniz said, adding, “The recycling process is more about education than heavy-handed enforcement.”
If complaints from residents over the Waste Management contract grow, the city charter allows a 4-3 vote to be revisited if one of the city commissioners who voted “yes” wants to rescind his vote. Yaniz said he would not be willing to change his ballot and he did not believe the vote should be overturned. He said feedback from his constituents was in favor of restoring the twice a week trash pickup.
“The only feedback I’ve gotten is ‘thank God we’re going back to 2-1-1,” he said, referring to the new collection schedule of twice a week for trash and once a week for recyclables and yard waste. “Of course, once it hits them in the pocketbook, it may be a horse of a different color.”
A rate increase for residential trash collection is a certainty, according to Utilities Manager Gewin, who is developing rate levels based on the new contract. And commercial rates may increase as well because of the higher costs to operate the city-owned transfer station. Currently, the city manages the transfer station for approximately $550,000 a year. Waste Management’s bid to take over that operation was $853,464, a 55 percent increase. However, the Advanced Disposal Services bid was a whopping $1.97 million. The difference between the bids on the transfer station component alone was enough to make Waste Management the low bidder for the entire contract, allowing the majority of city commissioners to declare they had followed city requirements by awarding the contract to the lowest bidder.
However, Commissioner Teri Johnston, who voted “no” on the new contract, pointed to the report by city staff and an independent consultant, Kessler Consulting, that recommended the city continue to operate the transfer station because it could do so significantly cheaper than the two bidders. The staff report also recommended that the city maintain the once a week trash collection schedule because of cost and the impact on recycling rates.
“It clearly was a conscious choice by a majority of commissioners to choose the option that made it seem like Waste Management was the low bidder. And that was at the cost to the community,” Johnston said. “I just wake up at night and say, ‘what the hell?’”
In the wake of the contract vote, a founding member of the Sustainability Advisory Board, David Lybrand, resigned in protest of the move to twice a week trash collection. Gewin resigned the morning after the vote. However, he said he had been planning on resigning to move to Seattle, Wash., to be closer to his family.
The vote on April 23 clearly delighted Waste Management executives who attended the meeting along with dozens of their employees and supporters. Not only was the company able to hang on to the lucrative contract, they were also awarded a pay raise from $5.9 million a year to $7.2 million. The seven-year contract also includes two, four-year extensions.
But the purpose of putting the contract out to bid – an effort to save taxpayers money by encouraging competition – was blocked, Johnston said.
“We did get better prices. We just chose to ignore it,” she said.[livemarket market_name="KONK Life LiveMarket" limit=3 category=“” show_signup=0 show_more=0]