After months of research and negotiations, City Council on Tuesday greenlit GFL Environmental as the new residential trash and recycling collector for the city's 83,400 customers. It's an eight-year contract, costing more than $11 million per year.
The council's vote was a moment of unanimity. However, if you've read recent stories or watched the discussion on City TV, you know there was little else that could be done.
There were deficiencies – “shortcomings” as described by Council President Jason Arp, R-4th – in the contract as identified by members Sharon Tucker, D-6th; Russ Jehl, R-2nd; and Tom Freistroffer, R-at large. But to reject the offer would mean the entire proposal process would have to be restarted.
Hauling trash is a malodorous business, and this contract, the city believes, is sweeter for residents. City corporate attorney Tim Haffner is most likely right that this isn't going to be Red River 2.0.
But rather than rejoicing, there is an uneasy tension. There are questions.
For example, the contract, as written, has the means to punish GFL for not meeting goals. However, it's not mandated that the city do so. Even with enhanced technology, how quickly will GFL adapt to the city?
And there's the bulk trash issue.
When seeking proposals from GFL, Waste Management and Republic Services, the city requested bids based on a few different scenarios, including cart limit plus three bags of trash collection and recycling collection; and unlimited trash collection and recycling collection.
In a matter of miscommunication, GFL's unlimited trash collection and recycling bid was $11.15 a month per dwelling – just 40 cents more than to collect a cart plus three bags and recycling. But did this include bulk collection – heavy furniture, mattresses and non-freon appliances? It wasn't specified in the bid documents, according to the city.
Republic Services and Waste Management's bids for unlimited pick-up were considerably higher: $18.90 and $25.07 per month.
Before you can say “It's too good to be true,” yes, it was too good to be true. And before Jehl could advocate for unlimited pick-up, the bid was pulled.
GFL blamed the outlier figure on a calculation error. It can happen.
However, it appears asking for bids on unlimited trash was a moot point. Haffner told the council that unlimited garbage service was a “relic of the past,” adding that such a service isn't feasible as drivers rely more on automation for safety and efficiency, according to a story by The Journal Gazette's Devan Filchak.
Unfold the thought and it sounds like safety concerns would be specifically for bulk items. Tossing three extra garbage bags in a bin sounds easy enough. Shoving a couch with springs and edges into a bin – not so much.
In an email request for comment, Arp wrote that there may have been some miscommunication and misunderstanding related to the unlimited service bid, “but I do not believe it was an operative bid.”
Regardless, Jehl sees this as a missed opportunity.
“Clearly, the bid that provided the best value for the ratepayer was GFL's unlimited bid, which was only 40 cents per month more per household,” Jehl wrote in an email request for comment. “My constituents clearly told me that was the better option for them.”
John Perlich, the city's spokesperson, said the city has been assisting Red River in collecting bulk items and will continue to do so during the transition.
“We'll likely be doing the bulk collection on and after July 1 until a permanent solution is agreed upon between the City Administration and the City Council,” Perlich wrote in an email.
We have no doubt a solution will be found, but it may be a costly resolution – and that is sure to draw the ire of homeowners who have already endured five years of disappointment. Elected city officials cannot afford another bungle on trash. There is little to no patience left on the part of their constituents.