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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

In St. Pete: one man's mulch is another man's (Charlie Gerdes') money-making opportunity



When some at City Hall examine a seemingly uncontroversial contract and place it on the City Council's consent agenda, Charlie Gerdes sees a business opportunity.

Last week, during a review of this week's meeting agenda, Gerdes plucked a three-year contract for grinding yard waste from the consent agenda---where it would have been approved en masse along with eight other items without any discussion.

Why, Gerdes wanted to know, did the city want to pay a contractor $427,700 or $329 an hour (with a provision to adjust the price upward depending on market for diesel fuel) when it could just buy two grinders for about $500,000?

The city could grind its yard waste into mulch and employ at-risk youth to bag it and sell it for $1 a bag, undercutting the price at Home Depot or Lowe's, Gerdes said.

"This looks like an entrepreneurial opportunity," Gerdes said.

Sanitation Department director Ben Shirley said the city had looked at purchasing grinders previously, but cautioned about the cost of maintaining the machines. As might be expected with something tasked with chewing up roots, the grinders frequently break down.

"If the contractor doesn't have two machines, we're dead in the water," Shirley said.

Consolidated Resource Recovery, a Sarasota company, was the only bidder for the project to turn about 40,000 tons of yard waste brought by residents to the city's brush sites each year. Much of the resulting mulch is given away for free. The mulch produced at the city's Lake Maggiore grinding site is also used in sod and compost production, bio-mass fuel and stormwater reclamation projects.

Residents can also have mulch delivered for a fee.

Several council members voiced concern that so many contracts are only receiving one bid.

"It is becoming an issue," said City Administrator Gary Cornwell. "It's a sign of a good economy."

The city followed its ordinances and policies governing bids, he said.

"The market is just getting tighter," Cornwell said.

Gerdes suggested awarding the contract for one year instead of three to give the city time to explore taking over the grinding itself. Cornwell said city staff can insert language allowing the city to reevaluate and, possibly terminate, the contract on an annual basis.

City staff will present a report to council members at Thursday's meeting. 

Gerdes said he thinks, at the very least, the contract should get a public review.

"Maybe I'm crazy," Gerdes said.

Karl Nurse quickly seconded the motion, quipping: "I'd like us to pursue it whether or not Charlie is crazy."




[Last modified: Tuesday, January 19, 2016 5:37pm]


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