A seemingly clear-cut award of service agenda item last week led to a lengthy discussion by city commissioners over who to award a contract to for hauling roll-off containers.
One small item on last week’s commission agenda led to a more than 30-minute discourse at the dais.
The city commissioners had to decide whether they would award a contract to Republic Services of Florida for two years to haul roll-off containers. Currently, Plant City’s Solid Waste Department utilizes a waste disposal contractor for hauling “roll-off” containers for its commercial customers. Those are extra-large containers that hold construction material or industrial sized trash compactors.
The contract itself is not new. The current provider for Plant City is Progressive Waste Solutions of Florida, Inc. The city has 42 accounts with a varying number of containers and those containers are either owned by the city, the contractor or the customer. When its agreement was set to expire, the city sought new bids.
Four came in, with Russo & Sons, LLC being the lowest at $635,483 and Republic Services of Florida coming in second at $730,655.75.
This was where the issues began to arise. The city said “it was determined through several weeks of requests for clarification from Russo & Sons the company did not meet the criteria set forth in the bid. Upon evaluation of the bids, Republic Services of Florida was the lowest responsive and responsible bidder.”
Russo & Sons, LLC. disagree with that assessment and on Sept. 17 a letter of protest was received from Mark Connolly, an attorney representing the company. On Oct. 8, city leaders met with Connolly and Brad Avery from Russo & Sons to discuss the protest. Then the City Manager sent a letter to Connolly agreeing with the recommendation from the Procurement Manager to “reject the bid from Russo & Sons, LLC and award the bid to Republic Services of Florida.”
It seemed relatively straightforward. But then Commissioner Bill Dodson voiced his lack of support for the decision during the Oct. 26 commission meeting.
“I think what it comes to, for me, is this is a matter of the city imposing costs on its residents for an additional $95,000 by the second-highest bidder, which was Republic Services, when it could be supplied quite adequately by the lowest bidder, Russo & Sons… I think if the wording of the documents and bids were differently proposed, it would enable them to show they have plenty of sufficient experience to adequately perform the duties outlined and required by the city for the service,” Dodson said. “This is a business activity that is a very simple business activity, actually. It involves a contractor that the city would employ to provide a service on behalf of the city through the solid waste department to about 40 of our commercial customers.”
To be clear, the customers’ rates are not increasing with this decision regardless of who is selected. Dodson also said he believed the city could always award the contract to Russo & Sons and see what happens. If things go wrong, they could simply end the contract and move on.
Solid Waste Director Jill Sessions immediately voiced her disagreement with painting the job as “simple.” She listed the many intricacies and dangers involved with the job and said it was crucial the selected business had the experience and met the requirements laid out in the bid request. They have to know what they are doing or else things could quickly go wrong, Sessions said.
“It’s very hazardous and also very expensive,” Sessions said. “One compactor alone could cost $40,000 or more and if there’s damage to that, or injury, I know someone that was almost killed by the door on one of those things. When they pushed it back in, the door flew open and hit him and knocked him into a wall. Easily $100,000 can turn into a big loss if the company does not have enough experience… To me it wasn’t worth the risk. I know you said we could award it to them and see what happens, but we are responsible for the customer relationship here. There are contractors, but ultimately the city’s relationship with those customers could be tarnished if we allowed them to do on-the-job training.”
Staff found that Russo & Sons “ failed to demonstrate experience in roll-off container operations (minimum of five years in the same type of work prior to the bid date).” Of its 10 references, only six had contracts with the company. Of those six, two indicated there were five years’ experience but neither had evidence of experience with roll-off compactor service. Three references with Inland Waste didn’t have experience in open-top roll-off containers or compactors.
The company also failed to demonstrate a minimum of three projects of similar size and scope. According to the City of Plant City, none of the 10 references listed were of similar size and scope to the city’s operations.
Dodson also brought up the idea that the city began looking to take this service in-house rather than rely on an outside contractor. Commissioner Mike Sparkman, Mayor Rick Lott and McDaniel said they agreed that was a step the city would have to look at in the years to come, but that now was not the moment to spend too much time wondering over the cost and potential savings that could arise from that future decision.
To bring that decision to the forefront, a full market analysis as well as a business case study would have to be completed so the city would know its full responsibilities before it would take on the prospect of bringing the service in-house.
After the lengthy discussion, Lott called for a vote. The commissioners agreed 3-1 to allow McDaniel to enter into a contract with Republic Services of Florida. The transition of services took place between Oct. 27 and Nov. 2. The contract is for two years and grants McDaniel authorization to execute one two-year renewal.