NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco County switched to a new vendor Tuesday to clean up emergency sewer spills, but not before one commissioner made a stink over the contract. Following an occasionally heated exchange, fellow board members asked county attorneys to prevent losing bidders from lobbying commissioners before a deal is approved.
Commissioner Jack Mariano said he has several problems with the two-year contract that went to Miami-based Envirowaste Services over Arthur Price Septic Services, a Holiday firm that has held the contract for 18 years.
"I find it very disappointing," he said. "I don't think this bid should be awarded to the Envirowaste company."
After nearly 20 minutes of Mariano asking county purchasing director Scott Stromer about the fine points of the deal, Commissioner Pat Mulieri said she was uncomfortable getting involved in the contract dispute.
"You are harassing our staff," she told Mariano. "My God, go easy on him. He's done his job."
On a 4-1 vote, Mariano lost his push to deny the award or ask for new bids. Mulieri later asked county attorneys to prepare an ordinance that would prohibit contractors from contacting commissioners while a bid is still open.
"I just don't feel comfortable when something's out for bid and we're being lobbied," she said.
Commissioner Ted Schrader agreed with the idea: "There's a real potential to jeopardize the program, to impugn the integrity of the program."
Stromer said changing companies saves the county money. Because of a lack of competition over the years, he said, Arthur Price has essentially set the price.
The two firms were asked to bid on seven items. Envirowaste was the low bidder on five items. Based on the sewer services the county used last year, Stromer said the Miami company would've charged $129,000, while the local firm would have charged $136,000.
But Mariano said Envirowaste did not guarantee it owns all of the equipment the county asked for. He also said county purchasing officials changed the terms of the contract midway through the process.
"We're not here to follow what staff tells us to do every time," Mariano said. "It just happens to be that it just hurts the local firm, and that makes it all the worse." Mariano has previously argued that local firms should be given a preference in contracts.
Regarding changing the contract's terms, Stromer said he was having trouble estimating potential travel costs and asked both companies if they would charge those fees. Both said in writing that they wouldn't, so Stromer didn't consider that in the bid process.
Mariano argued that not considering travel costs puts the Holiday company at a disadvantage because its costs could be lower.
The request for bids says companies are not allowed to change their proposals, though the county can change what it asks for.
"We have not done anything unsavory," Stromer said. "This is absolutely above board. We have not done anything that would compromise the integrity of our process.
Lee Logan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6236.