To bid or not to bid – that was the question before Port St. Joe city commissioners last week.
With still another offer on the table regarding the cost of garbage service, commissioners were divided whether to move forward or if they even could move forward.
With the city attorney recommending a new path while two commissioners believed they’d reach the end of the road, commissioners again delayed, for the third meeting in a row, a decision on their solid waste contract.
The trail on which commissioners now travel was not even one of their making.
Rewind to spring and the Board of County Commissioners, continuing a discussion of more than a year, went out for bids on a solid waste contractor.
County officials asked the city to join the process – as prelude to a move to mandatory countywide garbage pickup.
Bids were submitted by Waste Pro, Port St. Joe’s current hauler, and Waste Management based on a city/county contract and city-only collection.
The BOCC, then a customer of Waste Management, chose to enter into a new contract with Waste Pro, but only for collection in unincorporated Gulf County.
The BOCC also abandoned its direction toward countywide mandatory garbage pickup.
After putting off implementation last year, the BOCC has not revisited a compromise proposal to put a referendum on the fall ballot pertaining in a one penny sale tax to underwrite a move to mandatory garbage pickup.
The BOCC now proposes to undertake a study to justify establishing a Municipal Benefit Taxing Unit and countywide tax collection for mandatory pickup.
For Port St. Joe officials, however, the county’s effort led to additional discussion over contract numbers with Waste Management and Waste Pro even though the city’s contract with Waste Pro was not up until Oct. 1, when it is open for renegotiation.
That was spurred by the initial proposal from Waste Management, which provided cost savings to the city.
Also in the mix for commissioners was an uptick in customer complaints, attributed largely to Waste Pro expansion in the region.
What followed over the ensuing weeks were proposals and counters from each company, with Waste Pro ultimately matching the cost numbers provided by Waste Management.
Last week commissioners considered additional issues beyond the price tag.
Most prominently, the city’s transfer station off Industrial Road.
Waste Management proposed to continue operations at the station, but Waste Pro, which is committed to constructing a new transfer station at Five Points Landfill as part of its contract with the BOCC, would provide monthly rental for the city station but operate out of Five Points.
While Waste Pro has indicated it would have the transfer station built by Jan. 1, when Five Points Landfill is scheduled to close, commissioners and city staff were concerned about potential costs – the city currently pays $60 a ton at Five Points – if the new transfer station is not built.
“The two main concerns staff has is service and the transfer station,” said city manager Jim Anderson.
Ralph Wilson with Waste Pro said the company had worked on the numbers in good faith and noted there was an existing agreement with the city. He questioned the need for two transfer stations in a small county, but said the company would work out details “in good faith.”
“I think you guys will step up when we need you to,” said Commissioner Bo Patterson, who moved to accept the current proposal from Waste Pro.
Lynn Yort with Waste Management said the company has also dealt in good faith and asked for additional time to respond to the latest offer from Waste Pro.
While she previously believed there was no need to bid the contract, Yort said she was not sure now.
“This whole process has been a bit off,” Yort.
And that process was the primary concern for city attorney Tom Gibson.
He questioned whether commissioners had not established a trail that could lead to a lawsuit from whichever hauler is not the city’s as of Oct. 1 due to a potential bending of the rules on bidding such contracts.
“Every time we get a price from either company the numbers go down,” Gibson said. “We may be forced to bid.”
Mayor Mel Magidson said he was concerned how commissioners reached this point, from a BOCC/city joint bid to ongoing discussions between the companies and city officials and staff over prices and details of service; effectively informal bidding which might violate rules.
“The dilemma is the corner we have painted ourselves into,” he said. “My concern is that we are possibly on thin ice.”
Commissioner Rex Buzzett said he felt that residents and commissioners would be more comfortable if the contract was bid out, providing the specific specifications commissioners wanted from their solid waste hauler.
Commissioner William Thursbay seconded Patterson’s motion to accept Waste Pro’s latest offer, but Magidson, Buzzett and Commissioner Phil McCroan dissented, saying they wanted more time to examine the city’s options.
Gibson said he would also research whether commissioners, at this point, should put the contract out for formal bid.