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Bidding process may go out with the trash

House bill offers cities innovative new system


We thank and support Rep. Martin Carbaugh for his efforts to improve the way cities and towns provide a seemingly basic government service: picking up the trash.

It’s a service that most of us take for granted, but if trash collection doesn’t go as expected, calls start taking over the city’s 311 hotline.

Fort Wayne provides garbage collection and recycling services weekly to 80,000 homes.

The city contracts with a private company to collect trash and recycled materials in carts provided to residents.

For years, all cities and towns – except Indianapolis – have had to contract for solid waste collection and disposal through a straight bid process.

The city sends out a request for bids and potential providers respond with their plans to meet the criteria outlined in the bid. There are no discussions with the providers about their responses, no brainstorming of ways to provide the service more efficiently and effectively. As long as the bid meets the city’s basic criteria, the lowest bid is generally the winner.

A couple of years ago, the Fort Wayne City Council and the administration studied whether lowest bid was always the best way.

Councilman Crawford, Council’s Regulation Committee and city staff, including City Utilities Director Kumar Menon and Deputy Director of Engineering Matt Wirtz, joined on a task force to study bid processes for professional services, such as accounting, architecture and engineering.

The group realized that although state statute didn’t prohibit the city from using a “request for proposal” method for professional service contracts, few cities used this option.

Based on the group’s diligent work, we advanced an ordinance to improve the way Fort Wayne did business.

This change has allowed the city to evaluate the qualifications of service providers along with pricing competitiveness.

As one of the few cities to compete out these contracts, Fort Wayne has used this process to secure the best professional services at fair and reasonable costs.

However, for solid waste services, Indianapolis is by state law the only city with the ability to use the RFP process.

Now it’s time to let other cities have that option as well.

House Bill 1246 (sponsored by Carbaugh) will help Fort Wayne and other cities have the flexibility to explore more innovative and cost-effective ways to procure solid waste collection and disposal contracts.

Experts in the waste industry say that technology keeps changing. Through the use of RFPs, cities can consider outside-the-box ideas by allowing companies to offer new processes in dealing with waste and recycled materials.

Knowing that the city can consider all they have to offer and not just the base price, more companies may be incentivized to bid.

Companies may respond with ways that both increase their profits and decrease the city’s cost, which may mean better rates for the city’s residents.

In tough economic times, it’s more important than ever to find efficiencies in the way local governments provide services.

Being able to use the RFP process for solid waste contracts will allow us to do this, and we applaud Carbaugh’s leadership in making the change necessary to explore this option.

Contrary to popular belief, not all politicians are experts in the waste and garbage business, and we appreciate the opportunity to work with the private sector more effectively to see that waste is taken care of properly.

Tom Henry is mayor of Fort Wayne, and John Crawford is an at-large City Council member. They wrote this for The Journal Gazette.