The Wellington Village Council hired attorney David Dee as a consultant for solid waste services last week and immediately put him to work helping prepare a request for proposals (RFP).
Council members had said that they were satisfied with their current provider, Waste Management of Palm Beach, but decided in September by a 3-2 vote to seek proposals for a new solid waste removal contract rather than renew its current seven-year contract with Waste Management for another seven years.
The contract provides for such a renewal, but recent opinions by the Palm Beach County Office of Inspector General have frowned upon the renewal of long-term contracts without a competitive bid.
The original proposal for Dee’s services was for no more than $60,000 at $250 per hour. However, at the Nov. 11 meeting, several council members were uncomfortable with the cost.
Councilman Howard Coates disagreed with Village Attorney Laurie Cohen’s interpretation that the current contract clearly provides for renewal. He asked how the new RFP would differ from the one issued seven years ago without a consultant.
“I don’t want to spend an additional $60,000 if it’s not necessary,” Coates said.
Director of Operations Jim Barnes said that the village had attorney Jeff Kurtz and a consultant on board at the time.
“We believe we have in-house expertise now, but we need assistance on the contract,” Barnes said. “I don’t want to speak for Ms. Cohen, but things have changed. There’s going to be a lot of attention by bidders to make their company appear to be the most desirable.”
Coates asked Cohen whether this was an area she felt comfortable with, and Cohen said that Dee has specific expertise with waste hauling contracts. “You have to understand the nuances,” she said. “In the end, you will get a product from someone who really understands the industry.”
Coates said he thought $60,000 seemed like a lot for consulting services.
Business Services Manager Ed De La Vega said village staff was recommending a consultant because of the complex nature of the contract, adding that Dee had said the price would be between $40,000 and $60,000. Coates said he would support $40,000.
Cohen said consultation would help avoid possible lawsuits. “What is driving the legal cost is litigation,” she said. “The $60,000 will be a valuable thing for the village.”
Councilwoman Anne Gerwig agreed with getting good consultation to prepare the RFP. “We need somebody who can answer those needs,” she said.
Vice Mayor John Greene agreed with hiring Dee as a consultant. “I know what the questions and challenges are,” he said. “Having an attorney at this point might help avoid litigation down the road.”
Village Manager Paul Schofield said that the consultant’s fee seemed like a reasonable price for what would be a $30 million contract over seven years. “We can do this in-house, but there will be other items that will not be done,” he said.
Mayor Bob Margolis pointed out that the RFP needs to be released in January. “We’re a little bit under the gun,” he said. “I’m comfortable with staff, but we do need counsel. We’re not just giving him a blank check. He has been doing this for a long time.”
Willhite made a motion to enter into an agreement with Dee in an amount not to exceed $50,000, which carried 5-0.
Dee immediately joined village staff in a discussion with the council about points of the contract.
Barnes brought up the issue of new trucks preferred by the council, which was a clause in the current contract, as opposed to moderately used trucks.
Dee said the current contract requiring new trucks would drive up the cost. “New trucks are a high level of service,” he said. “You’re paying for it.”
Barnes also brought up the council’s preference of using trucks running on compressed natural gas.
Dee explained that the current contractor is the only one to his knowledge that uses compressed natural gas as opposed to diesel, and that if that were true, no other bidder would be able to meet that specification. He advised giving that consideration when reviewing the responses, but not to make it mandatory.
Greene said the question was not necessarily about new trucks, but how well they are maintained, explaining that the council did not want trucks leaking hydraulic fluid on the streets.
Coates stressed that the RFPs should offer the same level of service as the current contract. “New trucks are in the current contract,” he said. “My concern is if we start changing it up, it becomes more difficult to make that comparison. The residents like the new trucks and the natural gas.”
Willhite asked what the criteria are for new trucks. “When we say new trucks, what does that mean?” he said. “What year? Does it have to be within the last calendar year?”
He pointed out that new garbage trucks run about a half-million dollars each.
Barnes said the selection committee would have the ability to inspect the trucks while considering the RFPs, and added that a stipulation could be made that staff could require that unsuitable trucks be removed from service.
Coates asked about the selection committee, and Dee said typically that is done by village staff.
They also discussed the stipulation in the current contract that the hauler have five years’ experience with a similar-sized municipality.
Dee said the five largest contractors that serve the area will meet those specifications. “There is one company that has only one year of service with one community your size,” he said.
Coates asked about the previous contract, and Dee said it is about the same, explaining that they can use the same criteria as 2007, and if anyone objects, including the potential respondents, they can make their concerns known.
“When we prepare the RFP, we will have a proposal conference,” Dee said, explaining that the potential bidders will be given the opportunity to comment. “If they think of something we didn’t think of, I’m all ears. Sometimes they make suggestions that are worthwhile.”
Barnes said the question had come of automated or semi-automated garbage and vegetation pickup, and that village staff recommended fully automated.
Barnes also raised the idea of the village buying a grapple truck, which was not in the previous contract.
Schofield pointed out that more than half of the cost of the contract is in vegetation removal, which would be the primary use of a grapple truck. “There is a lot of it,” Schofield said.
Both Greene and Coates said they would prefer a five-year contract. “I’m not totally convinced that we want a renewal,” Coates said. “I have no problem with five years, but do we want a renewal?”
Cohen said she did not think the inspector general has a problem with a renewal clause.
Schofield pointed out that the shorter the term of the contract, the higher the cost.
Willhite suggested a five-year contract with the option for two two-year renewals, and Greene agreed. Coates said he would agree to a five-year contract with the option of three one-year renewals.
Dee said he did not know what the basis was for the inspector general’s opinion on waste hauling contracts. “In Florida, you have no state mandate that you have to bid for these kinds of services,” he said.
Cohen pointed out that the village’s purchasing manual requires competitive bidding. Greene and Coates stressed that they wanted to be competitive.
“I am very concerned about not winding up with a higher cost for the taxpayers,” Coates said. “I want to provide same quality of service and possibly at a savings to taxpayers.”
Dee added that there are a number of items that municipalities can recover from the hauler, including administrative costs and possibly the grapple truck.
“Local governments do that all the time,” he said, pointing out that ultimately taxpayers pay for it one way or another.