BROOKSVILLE — It's been awhile since Joe Stapf got this excited about trash.
But when Hernando's director of environmental services saw the bid proposals from companies seeking the county's trash and recycling hauling contract, he felt elated — and county residents will, too, he said.
If the County Commission approves Stapf's recommendation to go with the lowest bidder, the monthly fee for trash pickup for more than 50,000 households will decrease. Customers would also get curbside recycling and yard waste pickup, plus two more bulky waste pickups per year.
In other words, additional services at a lower cost.
"How can you argue with that?" Stapf said. "I think it's incredible."
Seaside Sanitation, based in Hudson, was the lowest of eight submitted bids to provide trash pickup twice a week, recycling pickup once a week and yard waste pickup twice a month.
In four of the five service areas across the county, the rate would be cheaper than what customers pay now, with savings ranging from $35.28 to $52.80 per year.
In the fifth area, which includes about 4,000 households in Brookridge and High Point, the rate would increase $1 per month, to $7.15.
Under the new contract, the current mandatory trash pickup areas would remain. They include all of ZIP codes 34606 and 34608 and parts of 34609. The city of Brooksville, which provides its own sanitation service, would not be affected.
Stapf will make his recommendation at the July 19 County Commission meeting, pending a financial background check on Seaside. The company is one of the current contracted garbage haulers and a subsidiary of Republic Services Inc., one of the largest waste management companies in the country.
Stapf said he's still waiting for an answer from Seaside officials for why the rate would increase in the one service area. It's also unclear how Seaside managed to come in with such a low bid.
A spokeswoman for Republic declined to comment because the bid has not yet been awarded.
But Scott Harper, the county's solid waste services manager, noted Republic's size and its presence in Florida. The company, for example, started trash hauling for about 140,000 households in Polk County last year.
"They've got the horsepower," Harper said.
Choice Environmental, another contractor that hauls garbage in Hernando, also submitted a bid. Choice recently bought Central Carting, which had a contract with the county.
Waste Management Inc., the third current contractor in the county, submitted bids only for the three districts it currently serves.
The contracts with the three haulers end Oct. 1.
Providing countywide curbside recycling would mean a big benefit to the county for a few reasons, Stapf said.
Hauling the large containers from recycling drop-off sites throughout the county to the sorting facility at the landfill north of Brooksville is costly. Curbside recycling service would greatly reduce both the volume of material left at the sites and the related expenses, Stapf said.
Recycling more materials also extends the life of the landfill, delaying the eventual cost of building a new cell. The county opened a new, $6 million cell last September.
Before privatizing the recycling sorting process, the county was losing $1 million a year. Now the operation brings in a modest profit of a few hundred dollars a month that would almost certainly increase. That will head off the need to increase the annual solid waste assessment of $63.05 on residents' tax bills, Stapf said.
"We'll have to see how all this shakes out, but it might even be possible to lower that," he said.
County Commissioner Dave Russell said the low bid is good news for residents pinching every penny.
"It'll help people pay those exorbitant insurance premiums when they come in," he said.
Sometimes, however, "the devil's in the details," Russell said.
Is there a devil in the details of Seaside's bid?
"Not that we've been able to find," Stapf said.
The bidding process also confirmed what county officials expected: Universal, automated, once-a-week garbage service would be even cheaper for customers.
Some of the companies submitted bids to provide that service, and Seaside's prices were even lower than the ones it submitted for twice-a-week service.
But in a referendum last fall, county residents responded with a resounding no, with 67 percent opposing the idea. At community meetings before the vote, residents told Stapf they did not want just one pickup of garbage per week and did not know if they could handle or store the larger bins required of automated pickups. They didn't want the county's two convenience center garbage drop-off points closed, either.
Those centers — one in Ridge Manor, the other in Spring Hill — cost the county about $1 million a year to operate.
All households contribute about $13 a year to help pay for that, and most of those residents don't use the centers, Stapf wrote in his recommendation memo to commissioners. He noted, though, that the centers provide a place for residents to dispose of used oil, lawn equipment, batteries and other items that cannot go to the landfill.
At the very least, it might be time to scale back the hours for the centers to two or three days a week, Stapf said.
The county has yet to actively look for a subdivision to take part in a pilot program with the automated, once-a-week pickup. Perhaps now that there are prices to show to residents, that might be a little easier, Harper said.
"Maybe the county will go there one day," he said.
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.