‘Sticker shock’ expected when Sarasota County staff gets bids for next solid waste contract

Director of Solid Waste Department hopes to have agreement ready for commissioners’ approval before end of this year

Almost exactly 11 months ago, in early July 2022, Brian Usher, director of Sarasota County’s Solid Waste Department, told the county commissioners that staff would have to have a new contract in place by the start of the 2025 fiscal year for the collections of garbage, yard waste and recyclables.

That fiscal year will begin on Oct. 1, 2024.

During his presentation of his proposed budget for the 2024 fiscal year, on June 22, Usher provided an update on that process, explaining that staff is working on finalizing the solicitation for the new contract and hopes to advertise it soon.

His goal, Usher pointed out, is to have the commissioners approve that contract before the end of this calendar year.

His staff is collaborating with the county’s Procurement Department staff, he noted, to try to come up with the best ways to make the solicitation competitive, to try to keep the bids as low as possible. As he reported earlier to the commissioners, one option is splitting the county into two sections, to increase the number of bids.

Nonetheless, as Chair Ron Cutsinger pointed out — also on the basis of the past discussions with Usher — “We’re going to be looking at some potentially pretty significant increases.” That is all the more reason, Cutsinger emphasized, that the public needs to be aware of the process. “We’re going to probably have a little sticker shock on how that [contract] comes back.”

“That’s absolutely accurate,” Usher replied. The Manatee County Commission recently extended its current contract for two years, and the cost was double the previous rate, Usher said.

“We expect similar impacts internally to our services,” Usher added.

Already, he continued, he and his staff are working on an educational campaign for county solid waste customers.

Then County Administrator Jonathan Lewis noted that when the Charlotte County staff solicited bids for a new solid waste contract about four years ago, the resulting expense was approximately three times higher — “something in that neighborhood.”

“That’s correct,” Usher said. “We’re seeing that throughout the state … double to triple the rate.”

On July 13, 2022, Tim Bowers, who had just become the new Waste Management representative for the region, offered during the commissioners’ Open to the Publiccomment period during a regular meeting that day to serve as a resource to county staff members as they prepared the solicitation for the new contract.

Bowers explained that the top three reasons contract expenses were climbing were the continuing COVID-19 pandemic; inflation, especially in regard to fuel prices; and a nationwide shortage of drivers who have the certification to handle the company’s equipment.

As of that time, Bowers continued, the driver shortage nationwide was approximately at the 80,000 mark. Federal Express, UPS and Amazon were among the companies also affected, he said, so waste collection companies were having to compete with them.

“Most recently,” he told the commissioners that day, when Hillsborough County sought bids earlier in 2022, its staff saw rates go up from the $6 to $12 range to the $17 to $22 range.

In 2021, he added, in Brevard County, the rates jumped 40% to 80%.

“Waste Management’s been with [Sarasota] County for 18 years,” Bowers pointed out. “We want to continue that relationship.”

Given the situation statewide, Chair Cutsinger said during the June 22 discussion with Usher, it is especially important to let Sarasota County customers know what probably lies ahead for them.

Among details in his budget presentation that day, Usher showed the commissioners a slide with data about how much waste customers generate in the county.

In the 2021 calendar year, the average number of pounds per person per day was 10, the slide said. The average pounds per day per person diverted from landfill disposal in this fiscal year to date was 9; for the previous fiscal year to date, the figure was 9.6.

In response to a Sarasota News Leader request for a clarification about the latter figures, Usher wrote in an email, “[D]iversion is considered diversion from landfill disposal which could include reuse, recycling, or repurpose.”