Sunday, May 27, 2018
News Roundup

As Tampa eyes garbage haulers, low bidder has familiar story

TAMPA — After receiving $1.2 million to settle a claim that Waste Management overcharged the city for five years, Tampa officials recently sought bids from haulers interested in picking up garbage from local businesses.

Six bids came in, and now the city intends to award a three-year contract to Republic Services of Florida — a company that was overpaid more than $1.5 million by Polk County over seven years.

At a glance, that might seem unexpected. But officials say the situations are not the same, and, in any case, haulers are eligible to compete for Tampa's business as long as they don't owe the city money and haven't been convicted of a crime such as fraud, theft or bribery involving a public entity.

That means Waste Management and Republic could bid to pick up solid waste from about 2,350 businesses in the central and northwestern parts of the city. Those businesses generate about 40 percent of Tampa's commercial solid waste. City trucks pick up the rest.

Republic submitted the lowest bid: slightly more than $5 million for three years. (Waste Management's bid was nearly $7 million, good for fifth place.)

After opening bids on March 8, the city issued a notice last week that it intends to award the contract to Republic, though other bidders can file a protest. As of Monday afternoon, none had.

Republic has two other solid waste contracts with Tampa — one to dispose of ash from Tampa's incinerator at the company's landfill in Bartow — and there have been no performance issues, said Mike Herr, the city's public works and utility services administrator.

The company said in a written statement that it wants to keep things that way.

"Republic Services has partnered with Tampa for many of its waste services, and we value our relationship with the city," it said. "If Republic is awarded this contract for Tampa's commercial solid waste collection, we will focus on meeting the needs of our customers every day."

In Polk County, an internal audit in July concluded that county officials overpaid Republic from 2006 to 2012 because vacant lots or lots where contractors had pulled building permits, but not yet built anything were included on a county-generated list of residences to be billed for solid waste pickup. Republic paid Polk $1.5 million to settle the overpayments, County Attorney Michael Craig said.

In contrast, Tampa officials say a preliminary audit showed that Waste Management overcharged the city $1.4 million from 2008 to 2012. The problems took place as some businesses closed and others opened at locations served by Waste Management, according to the city.

Individual customers were not overcharged, officials say, but Waste Management continued to bill the city for service to both the old and new businesses at the same location. Over time, charges for closed businesses drove up the city's bill.

In its defense, Waste Management says the problem started when Tampa officials provided inaccurate information at the start of the billing process.

Last month, Waste Management agreed to pay the city $1.2 million to settle the matter.

Waste Management's five-year contract with the city expired Dec. 31. Rather than renew the contract, city officials have extended it by six months at a cost of about $849,000 while they seek bids for a new contract.

City officials aim to send a new contract to the City Council for its approval on April 4.

And the next contract, Herr said, will have more controls over how often invoices are reconciled and allow more scrutiny of the process. The next vendor also will have to provide, at its expense, GPS tracking and radio-frequency identification tags so that the city can track when garbage at the addresses is picked up and assess whether a hauler is mixing in waste from noncity accounts.

"We have a lot more controls in this invitation to bid," Herr said, "which makes for a much better business relationship than we had before."

Information from the Ledger of Lakeland was used in this report.

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