Annual assessment for solid waste collections going up 7% in 2022 fiscal year
It took about two years for Sarasota County staff to prepare for the switch to the single-stream recycling system that was launched in early January 2020, Sarasota County Administrator Jonathan Lewis pointed out to the county commissioners on Aug. 25.
That was why Brian Usher, director of the county’s Solid Waste Department, and Chas Jordan, project manager for Kessler Consulting Inc. of Tampa, were listed on the agenda for an update about the future of the county’s solid waste collections after the county’s contract with Waste Management ends on Sept. 24, 2024.
That date will mark the finale of the 20-year agreement, the maximum allowed by county regulations, Usher pointed out.
A county staff memo provided to the board members in advance of the meeting explained that an ordinance the County Commission adopted in December 2019 “limits the exclusive or nonexclusive collection of residential waste and/or commercial waste for a period of time not to exceed 20 years.”
Jordan also pointed out to the commissioners on Aug. 25, “One of the major factors that we have found is that prices have gone up significantly” around the state.
In other words, Commissioner Michael Moran summed up that news, “There’s going to be a massive rate increase.”
“Yes,” Jordan replied. “We would suggest you prepare for that.” The Aug. 25 staff memo regarding the presentation noted that Waste Management gets “$9.18 per single family unit and $8.94 per multi-family unit”; those rates are in effect through Sept. 30.
“Preliminary market assessments are speculating this rate to be approximately $15 per unit at the time of solicitation” for a new contract, according to a slide Usher showed the commissioners.
Staff hopes to advertise that solicitation no later than October 2022, the slide said. Then, in September 2023, staff hopes to present the recommended new solid waste agreement to the board for its approval, according to Usher’s timeline. Providing the contract wins support, the slide noted, staff would initiate the transition to the new services.
“We’re planning early,” Usher added, to ensure that no lapse in service occurs.
Chair Alan Maio asked Usher for confirmation that “3 dollars and change per week” is what a county customer pays “for all of their garbage, recycling and yard waste [to be picked up].”
“That’s correct,” Usher responded.
“We understand that you all have a wonderful rate right now,” Jordan of Kessler Consulting told the commissioners, “and you want to keep the rates low …”
In late June 2019, Public Utilities Director Mike Mylett explained to the commissioners that, because of increasing county expenses, the annual solid waste assessment for single-family and multi-family residential units would need to increase by 17% in both the 2020 and 2021 fiscal years. That would cover the cost of the collections of garbage, recycling and yard waste.
Another 7% increase is planned for the 2022 fiscal year, which will begin Oct. 1, Usher pointed out in a county Facebook Live interview this week with county Media Relations Officer Drew Winchester. That uptick is expected to be adopted during the County Commission budget hearing set for 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 13 at the County Administration Center in downtown Sarasota.
On average, Usher told Winchester, residents will pay an extra $12 to $15 in FY 2022.
Keeping costs down not always the best option, board chair warns
During the Aug. 25 discussion, Chair Maio cautioned, “I just want us to be careful, in our zeal to get better, cheaper prices, that the county doesn’t hit the bloody wall again,” as it did when it tried to reduce the expense of its countywide mowing operations about 10 years ago.
The company with which the county contracted for a much lower fee ended up ceasing mowing because it could not cover its expenses. That led to widespread community complaints, overgrown medians and rights of way, and the death of one resident who was struck by a vehicle as she tried to mow an area where the grass had grown so tall.
“Let’s not give [the new solid waste contract] to the cheapest place out there,” Maio emphasized.
Working with Kessler Consulting, Usher said, he and his staff have been evaluating options for the next solicitation. The goal, Usher pointed out, is to maximize competition to achieve the best rates for residents and business owners.
That could lead to dividing the county into multiple service districts, for example, Jordan said.
Another key factor in planning ahead, Usher stressed, is the “need to engage with the public” before the new contract goes into effect.
Even if the commissioners eventually decide simply to modernize services, and the new contract ends up going to Waste Management, County Administrator Lewis pointed out, “It’s a multi-year process to get to that.”
If the county has to make the transition to another company, Lewis stressed, staff wants to have a year to make certain the public knows about that. If a different vendor takes over the service, he pointed out, the containers will change, as well.
Lewis’ comments followed Commissioner Nancy Detert’s question about why staff was spending so much time on the presentation that day, when three of the board members no longer would be in office by the time the Waste Management contract ends. (The terms for Detert and Moran will conclude in 2024; Maio’s will terminate in 2022. The County Charter limits board members to two terms.)
Further, Detert pointed out, “I get very few complaints about the current service, and people don’t like change. They just changed to these recycling containers [in January 2020].”
“Until the recent past,” Maio told Usher, “I got very few if any complaints [from customers]. It’s the disastrous labor situation,” he noted, that has prompted the recent complaints.
Many restaurants, for example, Maio continued, are going out of business because they cannot get an adequate number of employees.
“Frankly,” Detert said, “three years down the road … you’ll realize that our biggest problem … is getting people to work as garbage collectors,” given the COVID-19 pandemic, wages, workmen’s compensation and other factors, Detert emphasized.
“The only thing worse than paying a lot for garbage pickup,” she added, “is not having garbage pickup.”
That statement prompted a few chuckles among her colleagues.
“I agree substantially with what Commissioner Detert just said,” Maio added.
A plethora of details to consider
The five primary categories that staff has been working with Kessler Consulting to analyze for the next contract, Usher explained, are the franchise collection terms, non-ad valorem solid waste assessments, impacts of the county’s ordinance that mandates recycling, permitting issues for the collections hauler, and the hours for the collections.
The Aug. 25 staff memo pointed out that the current collection hours are 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the unincorporated areas of the county.
Jordan offered a list of the primary objectives related just to the franchise collection analysis to emphasize the depth of work the undertaking entails.
For example, practices in communities comparable in size to Sarasota County are being reviewed, he noted. Among the counties that are the focus of that research, Jordan said, are Manatee, Hillsborough, Lee and Volusia. That effort will enable the team to learn whether Sarasota County could adopt new processes those counties are pursuing, he added.
“Sarasota County is now one of the largest single-district collection system areas in the state of Florida,” he pointed out. “You have over 130,000 residential households” that Waste Management is serving.
A July 30 memo from Jordan to Usher, which was included in the agenda packet, said that Kessler Consulting “projects an increase of 1.95% per year in customers each year for the next four years.”
Procurement options also have been under review, Jordan continued. Among those, he said, a Request for Proposals would call for pricing to be included, while an Invitation to Negotiate would not necessitate a statement of pricing until discussions formally began with a vendor.
The solicitation also will need to make it clear what materials will be collected and how they will be collected, Jordan added.
Waste Management “provides rear-end load (REL) collection service … for most single-family residential customers and automated side-load (ASL) collection service for recycling,” Jordan noted in his July 30 memo.
Another facet of the process, he told the commissioners, will be identifying technology for the vendor to use, to allow the county to monitor the company’s performance. For example, he asked, should trucks be equipped with GPS devices?