Council, administration at odds over garbage contract

Baton Rouge administrators are hoping to renew a $100 million to $200 million trash collection contract with the same company that’s held it for the past nine years, but members of the Metro Council are questioning why their instructions to put the contract out for a competitive bid were ignored.

The Metro Council in March voted to pay consultant CDM Smith $49,900 to solicit bids from garbage collection companies to provide the service in Baton Rouge. Since 2005, the city-parish has had a contract with Republic Services of Baton Rouge, formerly BFI Waste Services, that will expire at the end of 2015.

Only the Metro Council has the authority to direct the consultant to stop or change its scope of work, according to the Parish Attorney’s Office.

But, the Mayor’s Office and Department of Public Works decided in April to stop CDM Smith from soliciting bids and then went to the council to ask it to renew a 10-year contract with Republic Services of Baton Rouge.

The council deferred the item when it came before them on April 23, but now many of the council members say they’re considering rejecting the contract and instead want to ask CDM Smith to resume seeking bids from competing trash companies.

The draft of the contract presented to the Metro Council at the April meeting was for 10 years; however, city-parish officials told council members that they planned to revise the contract into a five-year contract with a five-year option to renew.

Councilman Trae Welch said the administration overstepped its authority by calling off CDM Smith’s request for proposal process.

“Someone with the administration unilaterally changed the scope of the contract, and we never authorized for them to change this,” Welch said. “They may have done it with good intentions, but without talking to council members, absolutely they overstepped.”

Department of Public Works Director David Guillory said the decision to stick with Republic Services was made jointly by his department and the Mayor’s Office. Guillory said he thought the decision to ask CDM Smith to stop the RFP process and prepare the contract for Republic was within the scope of CDM Smith’s contract.

However, William Daniel, chief administrative officer for Mayor-President Kip Holden, said there could have been a procedural error. He said the administration intends to present the council with a measure to end the previous contract with CDM Smith, then the administration will sign a new, less expensive contract for the work the consultant already did to prepare the Republic contract.

“It’s possible that in trying to get it done as quickly as possible, that David (Guillory) may have made an error,” Daniel said.

Assistant Parish Attorney Ashley Beck said only the Metro Council has the authority to alter the terms of or end the contract with CDM.

Several council members said they didn’t understand what the harm in putting the contract out for bids would be, noting that the worst case scenario was they would get the same rates they’ve had since 2005.

Daniel said the Mayor’s Office is concerned about a disruption in service that could be associated with changing providers, adding that he didn’t think soliciting bids would yield cheaper service.

“It’s hard for us to see how we can get a cheaper deal when we have one of the lowest deals in Louisiana,” Daniel said.

But Councilman Ryan Heck said since the last council meeting, he’s been contacted by interested companies who, “indicated they would likely be submitting prices that would save us money.”

He said it was ridiculous that such a lengthy and expensive contract wouldn’t be reviewed after 10 years.

“I had to spend a two-month process to procure a new computer because we had to put it out to bid and that was only $1,500,” he said. “But the process protects the taxpayer, and as frustrating as the process can be, it’s there for a reason.”

Guillory said city administrators ultimately decided to stick with Republic because a review of prices for trash pickup in different cities showed Baton Rouge was already getting a great deal.

He said Republic is in the process of converting to a compressed natural gas fleet with its own fueling station that it offered to share with the city-parish once the company switches its fleet to the same alternative fuel source.

Republic charges $12.88 per home on a monthly basis for twice-a-week service and serves about 135,000 residences parishwide. The prices would remain the same if the contract is renewed, meaning a five-year contract would exceed $100 million and a 10-year contract would exceed $200 million.

Guillory provided a list of monthly trash collection rates for 18 cities in Texas, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi with rates ranging from $12.90 per house to $37.

Heck said based on the parish attorney’s opinion, the request for proposal process should continue to move forward.

“The item passed unanimously by the council for CDM Smith to write the RFP, help with interviews and selection and award a contract. It’s pretty clear,” he said. “So I’m still trying to figure out who would go against the wishes of the council and for what reason? What is the benefit?”

The Republic contract is expected to go before the Metro Council on May 14.

Follow Rebekah Allen on Twitter @rebekahallen. For more coverage of city-parish government, follow City Hall Buzz blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/cityhall buzz/