A month-to-month solid waste and recyclable collection contract with Waste Industries will extend through January, as the Sampson County Board of Commissioners decide how to proceed with a multi-million dollar agreement that expired at the end of November.
The board recently directed county staff to present a more concrete list of services — and the associated cost — that would be offered via an extension with Waste Industries, which has been a point of ongoing discussions for nearly a year.
“There have been some suggestions that the board may want to entertain further discussion with regard to the extension of our solid waste collection contract, which covers collection and transportation of waste from our convenience sites,” said assistant county manager Susan Holder. “Staff offers the board the chance to have further discussion or give us further direction if desired, or you may wish us to continue and proceed on as you previously authorized.”
That previous authorization, officially given in April, was to send out a request for proposals (RFP), gauging what others might be willing to offer and if they could do so at a lesser cost. For the time being, commissioners said they wanted to work with Waste Industries toward maintaining a solid partnership.
Commissioners said Waste Industries representatives had called them individually and that there were some additional concessions and services they could extend to continue the service. The RFP should be pursued only if it is believed a “substantial” savings would present itself, Commissioner Albert Kirby said.
“There were some things that I saw that showed effort on the part of Waste Industries to continue on,” said Kirby. “They’ve been a good corporate partner for the county, no doubt about that. However, if there is a substantial amount that could be recouped, that would be the only thing that would lead me to consider pursuing a request for proposals. If we’re just talking about a minuscule amount, it wouldn’t make sense to move away from a partner that has been as good to us as Waste Industries. Obviously, they offer a great deal to the county.”
The contract has not been put out to bid in recent years, however the Board of Commissioners in early 2012 cited pressing economic times, a tight budget and the large annual cost of the service as reasons for directing staff to put out a request for proposals for the service. The county is not mandated to bid it out.
However, since that unanimous April vote, discussions with Waste Industries officials have been ongoing.
Waste Industries, even prior to that April vote, proposed a five-year extension to the county as part of a confidential, unsolicited proposal. The current rate of the contract hovers over $700,000 annually.
“We obviously think there’s some benefit to not putting out to bid, because of what we’re able to get financially from them,” Holder said.
Finance officer David Clack said $711,000 was currently spent each year on solid waste collection, a per capita cost of $10.43. He pointed to Waste Industries’ proposal, initially floated in February, to continue to operate the convenience sites within the county for an additional five years, saying it was less than the current contract.
There is also a history between Sampson County and Waste Industries.
A five-year contract with Waste Industries was entered into at the beginning of December 2004, running until the end of November 2009. At that time, the contract was extended for three years until Nov. 30, 2012.
In previous discussions, commissioners said there was no slight on Waste Industries, but rather a desire to weigh alternatives and possible cost cutting that would come with it. In a message to the county detailing the proposed five-year extension, Waste Industries general manager Travis Hitchcock noted the “integral part” the company plays in the community.
“From our convenience site attendants to our solid waste and recycling collection truck operators, and to our team that operates the Sampson County Landfill, Waste Industries employs 52 individuals in Sampson County with an annualized payroll over $1.5 million,” Hitchcock stated.
County manager Ed Causey noted a competitive contract and a “good working relationship with a reliable vendor.” At the same time, he said there was an opportunity to show the public that its local government wants to ensure the most quality, cost-effective service is received by putting out a request for bids, at which time the county might also be able to confirm how good the current price is. By putting it out to bid, the county also ran the risk that price might change, whether for the better or possibly worse.
Kirby said Waste Industries was offering many “good things” in individual conversations with board member,noting discussions with Jerry Johnson, vice president for capital projects at Waste Industries. Commissioner Jarvis McLamb shared the same feeling, and asked Holder for some of those numbers and services cited to commissioners to be relayed to staff by WI officials and put on paper to consider.
Holder said “until the board is comfortable,” Waste Industries was willing to offer a month-to-month contract. She said Monday that the item is not expected to be considered at this month’s board meeting, set for this coming Monday, so the monthly agreement is anticipated to extend through at least January.
The board has options to consider, and the decision would ultimately be up to commissioners.
“Staff has worked on an RFP and that can be put out if needed,” Holder said. “I think we should go month to month as long as we can so staff can get all the information the board needs to make their decision.”
Waste Industries has talked about the cost of the proposed contract, which has been reduced, but also noted the benefits of keep the company over solid waste and recycle collection. They operate the convenience sites, as well as the landfill, so the personnel is present locally, an added convenience.
“That is the ultimate dilemma,” said Kirby. “If you can knock 3 or 4 cents off the tax rate, (other companies) have my attention.”
However, past cost savings, there were the “intangibles” to consider, commissioners and staff said.
Holder said there has been some concern of some “glitches” that might occur by splitting solid waste and recyclable collection duties among two companies, or accepting an agreement with another vendor that would push Waste Industries out of the fold when they have been a local partner for many years and run the landfill and convenience stations.
Commissioner Jefferson Strickland said the importance and value of a strong local partnership could not be understated.
“I agree with what the thoughts are,” said Strickland. “I think many of us remember a Friday afternoon when there was an awful mess in the making. Just one telephone call was made and an hour later the problem was solved. I would not us want to lose that benefit of being able to make that telephone call when it is needed.
“I support the thinking of this board that we improve what we have and value our partners as well,” he continued. “It’s nice to know you can make a telephone call and get something done.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email@example.com.