The last time Hillsborough County put its garbage contracts out to bid, Bill Clinton was president, the iPhone didn't exist and Betty Rubble debuted as a Flintstones vitamin.
Sixteen years is too long to wait to shop for better prices and service, and county officials should look to redeem themselves in the coming weeks by working in good faith to put trash services to competitive bid.
County commissioners agreed this fall to seek bids for garbage collection for the first time since 1996. By the time the existing contracts expire next year, the county will have gone 17 years without looking for cheaper and more efficient ways to pick up residential waste. The net effect is that Hillsborough's 254,000 households have for years been denied the fruits of competition and emerging technologies.
Commissioners will consider the bids in January. Before they do, the county is holding public hearings through Thursday to discuss the options. This is an opportunity for the county to explain in clear terms the benefits the competitive bids could bring. The most promising options call for the haulers to provide large, wheeled carts for garbage and recycling. That would relieve homeowners of having to buy their own garbage cans and carry them to the street. These carts would be more appealing in the neighborhoods than the motley assortment of garbage cans that now litter the streets, and they would reduce litter by taking the place of open cans and blown-off lids. The move to automated trucks also could get some of the old fleets off the streets, reducing both carbon pollution and wear on the roadways.
Some commissioners have been half-hearted in seeking competitive bids, conceding they do not want to be blamed for any service disruptions. They need to put their constituents' interests ahead of their own. The major haulers who are interested are used to adhering to minimum service requirements. Those are enforceable under any contract. County officials need to stress this point and get ahead of any public concerns. Residents have an opportunity here to receive more convenient service that is easier on the wallet, on the roads and on the environment. So let's put aside the anxieties and deal with what's a straightforward business decision.