ST. PETERSBURG — The City Council gave final approval on Monday night to a new ordinance and two multimillion-dollar contracts needed to launch its universal curbside recycling program.
During the next several months, the city will spend $4.1 million on new 95-gallon bins and a little more than $2 million on new trucks for the residential recycling pickup program, which will be rolled out next summer and cost residents $2.95 a month.
After years of discussion and months of recent delays, there's little chance of going back now.
"It's been a long journey," council member Karl Nurse said. "It's kind of cool to be here. … It's the beginning of a cultural shift."
St. Petersburg is one of the few big cities in Florida not to provide curbside recycling to its residents. Under the plan approved Monday, 80,000 single-family households will have their recyclables picked up once every other week.
Supporters filled council chambers Monday evening to hear the 7-0 vote (council member Steve Kornell was absent).
Cathy Harrelson, chairwoman of the St. Petersburg Sustainability Council, said this will start to build community awareness about waste.
"When you throw something away, it just doesn't go away," she said. "It goes somewhere."
Tim Martin of the People's Trash Campaign praised the city for deciding to do its recycling collection in-house with city sanitation workers. He and representatives of the League of Women Voters pledged to be partners with the city, saying they hope the program gets expanded to apartment complexes and commercial properties.
While people didn't dwell too much on the long road it took to get to this point, Monday night's vote wasn't without drama.
A representative of a company not awarded the contract for recycling bins told City Council members he could beat the $4.1 million price by $40,000, setting off a flurry of questions and consternation from city staffers.
Rhett Kelle, sales director for North Carolina-based Toter, claimed his company would provide better-designed and more sustainable bins.
City staffers scoffed.
Procurement director Louis Moore said Toter's proposal wasn't submitted to the city until Monday, well after the vetting process ended. Even then, Moore said, he looked at what it proposed and didn't think it met the city's needs.
"We have done our due diligence," Moore said. "Anybody can walk through that door and say we can beat that price."
Public Works Administrator Mike Connors said city staffers were highly uncomfortable with Toter's last-minute claims, which he called a "poor business practice."
"At the ninth hour to hear this type of offer is frankly inappropriate," he said.
With the approval now in place, the administration can move forward with the program, which Mayor Rick Kriseman identified as one of his main early goals for the city.
Council member Darden Rice, a longtime advocate of curbside recycling, asked that there be further discussion about the $350,000 set aside for marketing, communication and educating the public about the program. She said she wants more detail about how the money will be spent and her colleagues agreed.
"The citizens are going to be an important part in making this successful," she said. "I think our work has just begun."
In other news
Last spring, the City Council spent countless hours in tense meetings as it pondered setting aside $74,000 for a pilot program intended to be a model for the much-talked-about Agenda 2020 antipoverty plan.
On Monday, any lingering angst about the pilot was allayed as city staffers and facilitators declared the six-month effort a "fantastic" success. Nearly all of the 21 parents targeted in the program either moved out of poverty, got promotions or even started their own businesses, according to Randy Lewis of the Pinellas County Urban League.