BROOKSVILLE — When county staffers received bids for the next era of garbage collection several weeks ago, Environmental Services director Joe Stapf said he was astonished.
Eight firms had bid and one was the low bidder in every category. Plus, the bid was lower in most categories than the current cost and offered even more service than now.
It all seemed too easy.
And when the County Commission got the recommendation to award the bid to that low bidder, Seaside Sanitation, on Tuesday, it turns out it was too easy.
It was only after a lengthy discussion, including input from several of the bidders, and a break for county legal staff to brief commissioners that the board ultimately approved the Seaside Sanitation contract.
The Seaside Sanitation Service will include two garbage pickups a week, weekly recycling pick-ups and every other week pickup of yard waste. In addition, customers will be able to call four times a year for pickup of bulky items and large loads.
Only residents of Brookridge and High Point will see a slight increase in their monthly bills, from $6.15 to $7.15. The mandatory pickup area in Spring Hill will see a decrease from $10.54 to $6.14. Northern and western areas of the county will see a drop from $11.49 to $7.74 and the southwest and areas south of Brooksville that now pay $9.08 will instead pay $6.14.
The new contract does not affect residents in Brooksville who get city garbage service and there are no changes planned in the mandatory zone in Spring Hill.
While staffers had hoped to allow a transition from the current three haulers to just Seaside to take place Jan. 1, the new contract will likely have to be in place by October.
County officials had hoped to extend the current contracts, which run out Sept. 30, to Jan. 1, but this week Waste Management, which handles three of the five sanitation zones in the county, notified the county that it would not offer an extension.
That wasn't the only complicating factor.
Officials from the second lowest bidder, Waste Pro, urged the commission to consider their proposal more favorably. They said they planned to buy a property in the county to establish an office in Hernando. They would hire locally, buy local gas and pay tens of thousands in taxes over the course of the seven to 10-year contract, said company representative Brad Avery.
"Take a holistic approach'' rather than focusing just on the bid cost, he urged them.
The idea appealed to Commissioner John Druzbick, who noted that under some of the variables offered in the garbage bid specifications, Waste Pro was very close to Seaside in prices.
Commission Chairman Jim Adkins said the various bidders should be heard. But then County Attorney Garth Coller asked for a recess.
After a few minutes, the board reconvened and Coller explained that the county had sought bids on garbage collection, not a less restrictive procurement process of seeking proposals.
With bids, the commission was seeking the lowest and most responsive bidder and Seaside fit that bill. The options before the board were to accept or reject the bid.
"We've got a great deal here,'' said Commissioner Jeff Stabins. "Let's grab it for our folks.''
Druzbick said he understood the bid prices, but he could see the benefits of job creation, the economic stimulus of local taxes paid and local gas purchased. "Sometimes it's not the lowest bid but the lowest most responsive bid,'' he said.
Coller repeated that the price given was the yardstick on a straight bidding process. Nothing that the staff had found indicated that Seaside, which is affiliated with Republic Services, the second-largest waste firm in the country, wasn't responsive.
The bid required the winner to open an office and offer customer service in the county, but Druzbick said that was a far cry from establishing a headquarters in the county, buying property and paying taxes.
Randy Canal of Republic Services said his company planned to hire local workers. A job fair would be held and applications would be open for workers.
While the parent company may be a national giant, "we act locally. We get involved locally,'' he said.
Setting out how garbage collection works is the job of the county, attorney Bruce Snow said on behalf of Waste Pro. Once Hernando County's attorney, Snow noted that Hernando may be getting large enough that soon countywide rates might be considered.
Stabins reminded Snow that countywide automated services was rejected by voters in a referendum last year. "This is Hernando County. It's not a perfect world and we all know that,'' he said. "We got crushed, Bruce. We got crushed.''
Commissioner Dave Russell asked Canal whether Seaside and Republic would be willing to commit to buying fuel locally and he said that they would.
Then Russell asked if they might provide more of an office presence than just a few people and Canal said providing an office in Hernando might work in their favor since they also provide service in Pasco and Citrus counties.
Russell said that answered his questions.
"Frankly,'' Commissioner Wayne Dukes added, "I don't think we have an option.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.