The Cleveland City Council voted 5-2 Monday during the regular voting session to put the waste collection contract out for bid.
Vice Mayor Avery Johnson and 2nd District Councilman Bill Estes voted against bidding the contract. At-Large Councilman Richard Banks, At-Large Councilman George Poe, 1st District Councilman Charlie McKenzie, 4th District Councilman David May, and 5th District Councilman Dale Hughes voted in favor of bidding the contract rather than grant Waste Connections a five-year extension.
McKenzie might have summed the controversy up best when he said he has had more calls about the garbage contract than he has about schools.
“Apparently people care more about their trash than they do their schools,” he said after the vote.
Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland read a letter to the Cleveland City Council from Bradley County Commission Chairman Louie Alford. Alford asked the city to bid the garbage contract.
Alford stated in the letter that procuring goods and services from local companies promotes a healthy economy. Waste collected within the city is disposed of in a private landfill in McMinn County. If it was taken to the Bradley County Landfill, the county would benefit with an added $60,000 to $70,000 annually in the Solid Waste Fund. The money can be used only for solid waste projects such as expanding the joint city and county recycling program.
Johnson said he received more than 150 calls urging him to extend the contract five more years with Waste Connections. Only one of the callers expressed dissatisfaction with the current garbage collection service.
The other councilmen expressed similar responses from a public awareness campaign launched by Waste Connections urging residents to contact their respective Council members if happy with their service.
Johnson told his colleagues he is also a strong proponent of letting contracts out for bid.
“If I ever was going to set aside the bidding process and extend a contract to continue to do business with the people we’re doing business with, it would definitely be Waste Connections,” Johnson said.
Poe said he received about 200 calls during which he tried to take the time to explain the history of the contract. According to Poe, a local man had the contract 15 years ago. He asked for an extension, then sold the company to Waste Connections, based in Los Angeles.
“I don’t think that’s right. I think we should bid the contract and let the best man win,” he said. “If this company that’s got it now comes in with the best price, then so be it.”
Estes said the only reason the city has to opt out is another company stated it can save the city money, “but the track record of those who come and say that does not show that, nor is anyone in East Tennessee paying less than we are, so it’s a gamble. If we put it out for bid, we might save money, but it’s a gamble.”
Estes voted against the motion to bid the contract because residents are happy and the city has the lowest rate.
City Manager Janice Casteel asked the Council to consider a 10-year contract to make it worthwhile for a company to invest in equipment and personnel.
Santek Environmental Vice President of Business Development Kenny Fuquea said the company found centrally located property for use as a transfer station for Public Works.
Public Works Director Tommy Myers said during a Council strategic planning workshop earlier in the day that the transfer station saved his department more than $16,600 in time and landfill costs.
Waste Connections marketing manager Doug McGill said some people think Santek is a local company because it’s headquartered in Cleveland, but all of its trucks are in Chattanooga.
“You put a five-year extension ability in the contract. You have not had bad service, you’ve had great service,” he said.
He said Waste Connections has numerous municipal contracts within the state. The last municipal contract up for bid was in Soddy-Daisy. His company bid $2.59 cheaper than Waste Services.
“You’ve got a guaranteed savings. You’ve got guaranteed good service,” he said. “I just don’t understand why somebody wouldn’t take advantage of a guaranteed deal. I just think it’s a shame the Council can’t take into consideration what the residents have told you themselves.”
During the Nov. 26 Council meeting, McGill offered to forego a price increase effective Jan. 1, if the city exercised the option to extend the contract by five years. The company would accept the CPI increase during the five years of the extension.
The cost the company charges is tied to the Consumer Price Index published annually. The current CPI adjustment is 2.49 percent. Not taking the adjustment equates to a $35,000 savings to the city in 2013.
Santek responded with a guarantee it would save the city money if the contract was let for bid.