The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, January 11, 2022 1:00 am


Trashing old law?

City's contract woes may bring statewide change

EDITORIAL BOARD | The Journal Gazette

Fort Wayne's waste collection woes may lead to changes in Indiana law.

On Monday, Rep. Martin Carbaugh, R-Fort Wayne, introduced a bill authorizing a city or town to contract for solid waste collection and disposal through a request-for-proposal process instead of an invitation-for-bids process.

House Bill 1286 was introduced three days after Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry and the city's Common Council announced they were working together to push the Indiana General Assembly to change how cities and towns approve solid waste service bids. Such a change is also on the legislative agenda of Accelerate Indiana Municipalities, which advocates for Indiana cities and town government.

On Friday, the Henry administration announced any change in the law would not affect its current contract with oft-maligned provider Red River Waste Solutions. The Texas-based company continues to provide service to Fort Wayne residents despite filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The city cannot bid for a new contract with the Red River contract in place.

“The City believes it could better serve its residents if it could use the requests for proposal (RFP) bid process in its procurement of solid waste and recycling collection and disposal services instead of the lowest bid process,” according to the statement.

Allowing municipalities an option to the current bidding process makes sense, with the caveat that transparency is assured.

Fort Wayne's hands have been tied. By state law, Indiana municipalities must go with the lowest “responsible and responsive” bidder in public works contracts of $150,000 and more. As we outlined in an editorial last month, cheaper cost doesn't always equate to better service.

As Henry pointed out, Fort Wayne has saved $500,000 annually with Red River. However, Red River has surpassed the contracted maximum missed collections per month about 85% of the time, as recently reported by The Journal Gazette's Devan Filchak.

Red River has been fined more than $1.7 million over the past four years for not meeting its benchmarks and missed collections. Other problems detailed by the city include staffing, collection hours and how the company addresses property damage reports.

What will changing the bid process accomplish? Well, follow us to the edge of the weeds.

In the case of solid waste collection, Fort Wayne, by law, opens an invitation to bid, where price is the mitigating factor. With a request for proposal, Fort Wayne would choose service on criteria such as “system reliability, available technology, and various combinations of operations, management and maintenance,” wrote Stephanie Crandall, the city's Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, in an email on Monday.

In either case, the Common Council would ratify the contract. In past council meetings, Tom Didier, R- 3rd, said he felt like his “hands were tied” when approving Red River's bid. We doubt he's the only one who feels that way.

For Indiana cities and towns, changing the bid process on waste collection service (presumably for all contracts of more than $150,000) could ultimately lead to better service, although that might mean paying more. If the bid process is fully transparent, allowing municipalities this flexibility might provide just the remedy for angry Fort Wayne taxpayers.

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