MIAMI CAN’T GET IT TOGETHER TO RECYCLE
MIAMI CAN’T GET IT TOGETHER TO RECYCLE
2007-11-01 at 3:40:00 pm #19225
Bid impasse stalling new recycling plan
Used juice cartons, ink-jet cartridges, fluorescent light bulbs and medical needles are all still headed to Miami-Dade’s landfills instead of recycling centers.
County taxpayers are still paying about $250,000 more each month for recycling than they would under plans to improve the program.And a multimillion-dollar contract to overhaul the system — which is attracting lobbyists like a trash heap draws flies — is headed into its third round of bidding, in part because some county commissioners want to ensure that local companies get a piece of the business.”This reminds me of the bad old days of procurement,” said Commissioner Katy Sorenson. “It’s going to create even more of a feeding frenzy than we already have and set a precedent for future procurements being just as messy.”
The new contract — which could be worth more than $110 million over the next 14 years — would overhaul curbside recycling for 340,000 families. Instead of separating recycleables into two buckets, everything would go in a single 64-gallon wheeled cart, which would be picked up every two weeks instead of every week.The county would also begin accepting mixed paper, juice cartons and some kinds of plastic, as well as providing a separate service to accept ink-jet cartridges, fluorescent light bulbs and medical needles.The new service would also be about $250,000 cheaper per month than the current program, which the county will continue using until a new deal is approved.County Manager George Burgess hoped to win commission approval this month and launch the improved program around April. But his proposal was rejected during a nearly four-hour debate on Oct. 16, largely because the winning bidder was a Longwood-based company named Waste Pro Inc.The discussion revealed strong feelings among some commissioners about directing contracts to local firms.”That needs to be the first consideration because otherwise we’re not developing and growing our businesses,” said Commissioner Barbara Jordan.County rules allow but strictly regulate preferential treatment for local companies. When decisions are based on the lowest bidder or the highest score from a selection committee, a local business that comes within 5 or 10 percent of a non-local winner can win the contract or receive another chance to compete against the top finisher.Those rules did not apply to the recycling contract — instead of rigidly going by price or points, the county simultaneously negotiated with all five bidders to drive down the price.
Now, at the commission’s suggestion, Burgess expects to propose a new method that would split the county into three zones and forbid any company from serving more than one. Because four of the five bidders are local, at least two-thirds of the work would be guaranteed to stay with local firms.But that could make recycling more expensive; county negotiators found last summer that every bidder wanted more money per household if it served only one zone. If they all stick with the last price they quoted, the service could cost nearly $500,000 more per year than the $8 million proposal Burgess offered last week.”If we go to zones, it’s not the best price?” asked Commissioner Audrey Edmonson during the meeting.”Absolutely not,” replied Miriam Singer, the county’s procurement director.Commissioners suggested the next round of negotiations should require the competitors to meet or beat the $1.97 price that Burgess had secured for countywide service, but there is no guarantee any company would do so.”I guess we’ll deal with it if it happens,” said Commissioner Carlos Gimenez.Even if bidders do meet that price, Burgess said zones create administrative challenges and create the risk of unequal service in different parts of the county. On the other hand, Jordan said the zones put pressure on each contractor to excel.”They know if they don’t there’s someone in the wings waiting to take over,” she said.
Negotiating the new recycling contract has been contentious and unconventional for months. Burgess first tried a traditional method, known as a request for proposals, but encouraged the commission to throw it out when all the bids were higher than expected.The county then began negotiating with five companies, ending up with an offer of $2.06 per household per month from Waste Services of Florida. That company had recently bought BFI, which currently handles recycling pickup and was criticized last year for service lapses.At a committee meeting in September, commissioners told Burgess to keep negotiating. He came back this month with the $1.97 price from Waste Pro, but warned the commission it ”infects the procurement process” when they repeatedly tinker.”I don’t know when you stop — somebody’s always going to do more, offer more on the table,” Burgess said, noting that losing bidders routinely tell commissioners they would have charged slightly less in hopes of reopening negotiations.South Florida’s lobbying corps was on full display during the debate, with some of the county’s most prominent deal-greasers whispering in commissioners’ ears and buttonholing their staff in the halls.More than a dozen of them were hired after Burgess released his first set of recommendations in July — including former Republican chairman Al Cárdenas and former Democratic chairman Scott Maddox — suggesting a serious effort to change the outcome.Depending on what course the commission sets next month, the April 2008 launch could be delayed as little as a few weeks or as much as five months.”At this point we should just draw straws,” Sorenson said. “That would be as good as anything else we’re going to do here.”