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TALKING TRASH // Who picks it up? Who pays for it?

Life moves slowly on Easy Street. A fox sneaks into a hen house. A peacock flusters a neighborhood squirrel. The cry of tree frogs act as a morning alarm.

Jean Carson settles gently into the pace of rural life here, in the home she has owned for 32 years. She mows her 2.5 acres religiously. She goes without an air conditioner, even in summer. And every so often she throws a bag of garbage in her Mercedes Benz and drives it to a nearby county waste station.

Like about 30,000 other residents in Hillsborough County, or about one-fifth of all property owners, Carson tends to her own trash.

But now officials are telling Carson that part of her country routine is antiquated. The County Commission wants to revamp how garbage gets collected in Hillsborough, and that has created an unlikely alliance between rural residents like Carson and trash haulers who both like things the way they are.

The changes may mean Carson, 65, will have to pay haulers to pick up her garbage, even though she's been doing it herself for free. "This little old lady is as mad as a snake," she said.

Some waste hauling executives aren't excited about a wholesale shake up of the industry either. It's easy to see why.

For 24 years, the county has awarded five firms, and their three successor companies, contracts currently worth more than $60-million a year. And while most county expenditures of more than $25,000 require competitive bidding, the garbage hauling contracts have always been awarded without competition.

Consumer advocates and other haulers who want a slice of Hillsborough's garbage business have clamored for change. They say bidding for the rights to collect trash will lead to better service and lower prices.

Last November, the County Commission agreed, and the existing haulers went to work. They hired lobbyists such as H. Lee Moffitt, a former speaker of the Florida House, political consultant Stuart Rose, and Tampa lawyer Steve Anderson, who raised $400,000 for Lawton Chiles's gubernatorial race in 1990 and remains one of his closest advisers in Hillsborough County.

"These guys have got a cell phone glued to their head," said Bill Newton, staff director of the Florida Consumer Action Network, which supports changes to Hillsborough's garbage collection system.

In addition to lobbyists for garbage haulers, commissioners also have tried to hear from taxpayers at a series of hearings that started last month. At those meetings, county staff presented eight scenarios being considered by the commission. Companies submitted bids on those options this week.

On Nov. 13, after the Commission studies the bids, it could award three new contracts worth about $25-million each, and vote on specific changes in the way winning contractors would do business.

But if they don't like what they see, commissioners could opt to stick with the status quo.

From trash to ash

Garbage may seem like a simple topic, but the issues surrounding its collection and disposal get complex.

"Unfortunately, people ... think you put (trash) at the curb and it's gone," said Daryl Smith, the county's solid waste director. "But that's just one small part of it."

Now, properly disposed of trash goes to one of two transfer stations, including one on Linebaugh Avenue near Westchase, before ending up at the county's giant incinerator in Brandon. Some garbage is hauled directly to the incinerator.

Burning garbage generates electricity the county sells to utilities and reduces the volume of waste that ultimately ends up in expensive landfills.

In some areas, materials like glass, newsprint and aluminum get picked up separately and taken to a sorting and recovery center for later sale to users that recycle the materials.

Then there's a whole stream of trash that gets disposed of improperly, illegally dumped on secluded public and private lands or along busy roadways.

Three companies currently provide garbage collection service in Hillsborough.

BFI Waste Industries, which controls the most lucrative residential districts, gets little commercial business. Likewise, Waste Management Inc. of Tampa, which services most businesses, has fewer residential customers. East Bay Sanitation Inc. controls a residential district that includes Clair-Mel and Riverview.

The companies also divvy up the recycling business. It has worked that way for two decades.

Then, in 1988 the federal government told counties they could no longer put yard waste in landfills. That put Hillsborough in trouble.

Figuring that the county's hauling contracts would have to be revised anyway, to accommodate different services regarding yard waste, consumer advocates and solid waste officials saw an opportunity to begin campaigning for larger changes.

"It was time for some competition," said Commissioner Ed Turanchik.

Other haulers agreed, but it took several years of effort.

Kimmins Environmental Inc., which picks up about 35 percent of Tampa's garbage, wanted a piece of the county's business. In 1993, the company submitted a bid to the Hillsborough solid waste department _ even though it wasn't accepting any.

"They were really not open to this," said Jennifer Hayes, a Kimmins spokeswoman.

Lobbying hard

Kimmins assigned 20 staffers to lobby the commission, Hayes said. It also hired political consultant Todd Pressman, who usually works for Republican political candidates, to lobby commissioners, generate phone calls and letters, buy advertisements and call journalists.

Pressman said lobbyists working for other haulers easily outnumbered him. "They had an army of guys down there," he said.

Other companies, he said, even packed company buses with employees to fill commission meetings.

They argued that commissioners should not repair a system that was working well.

"Bidding does not guarantee customers that the company selected will deliver a high caliber of service," wrote Kim Egelseer, general manager of Waste Management of Tampa, in a letter faxed to the Times. Spokeswoman Lynda Long said company officials were not available to speak directly to a reporter.

Charles Graham, district manager of BFI Industries, also declined to be interviewed for this story.

Outside of hearings, garbage haulers' lobbyists visit county commissioners more often than any other industry group, lobbying registration records show. In one seven-day period in January, lobbyists met with commissioners 47 times.

"It is the most heavily lobbied topic at the County Commission," said Turanchik, who, like his fellow commissioners, meets with garbage executives when they ask for an appointment.

In those sessions, lobbyists say they only give commissioners information, said Rhea Law, a lawyer and the incoming treasurer of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, who represents East Bay Sanitation Inc.

Commission Chairman Jim Norman said he relies on lobbyists to learn about the solid waste business.

"The quirks of garbage pickups are not things you would know by sitting in an office," he said. He did acknowledge, in response to a question, that he also requests information from county staff.

The nuances of the garbage business may only affect a customer's household habits, but they can have big impact on haulers' bottom lines.

"The bids can be set up in a way that would favor one hauler over another," said Newton of the Florida Consumer Action Network. "And that's why they are all lobbying so hard."

If the work of lobbyists looks like a display of finesse, then the activism of rural residents is an exercise in bluntness.

At a September meeting at Citrus Park Elementary to discuss the changes, residents shouted and cursed at solid waste officials, according to residents who attended.

"Some (residents) used some pretty harsh words," said resident Janet Hiltz. "They were very upset to the extent of saying (the changes) were un-American."

Most were against mandatory curbside pickup and its cost. The charge would appear on tax bills. Some thought rural residents who live on dirt roads should be exempt.

"This is another case of government trying to fix something that is not broken," said Steve Morris, an Odessa resident.

"Anytime you hide something under the term mandatory and the government is involved, it usually hurts the average citizen," he added. For one thing, residents argue, it would force retirees to pay for curbside collection even if their houses were empty during the summer.

Jean Carson, for her part, doesn't understand why the county wants to upset her habits. Her life has stayed largely constant since she moved in 1964 to Easy Street.

"We have been out here so long and we have been lied to so many times that we are suspicious of everyone," she said.

_ Information from Times files was used in this story.

THE BIG QUESTIONS

Should curbside pickup be mandatory?

PRO

Could cut down on illegal dumping

Likely to lower prices by ensuring haulers more business

CON

Adds payments to tax bill

Eliminates freedom of choice

Unfairly taxes residents who don't generate much garbage

Should yard waste be collected separately?

PRO

Helps county meet federal law

Promotes conservation

Saves space in sanitary landfill

CON

Requires an extra pickup

Inconvenient for residents

Should the county build a center to process and market recycled materials?

PRO

More kinds of materials could be recycled

Better ensures that county receives market value for collected recyclables

CON

County must build processing center

Hurts recycling businesses now operating centers

What's next

The county will hold two meetings in North Tampa to discuss the proposed changes. They will take place on:

Oct. 22 at 6:30 p.m. at the Jackson Springs Recreational Center, 8620 Jackson Springs Road, Town 'N Country.

Nov. 7 at 6:30 p.m. at Gaither High School, 16200 N Dale Mabry Highway, Northdale.

Key questions about residential trash pickup

Question

Who picks up trash?

Hillsborough (proposed)+

Three companies in three areas

Hillsborough (current)

Three companies in five assigned areas

City of Tampa

Split 60%-40% between city and Kimmins ENvironmental Service Corp.

Pasco

7 companies compete in open market

How much does it cost?

Hillsborough (proposed)+

Don't know until Nov. 13

Hillsborough (current)

$6.84 monthly on water bill plus $89 yearly on tax bill.

City of Tampa

$18 monthly on utility bill

Pasco

$52 yearly on tax bill and maximum $8.77 monthly fee

Is pick up mandatory

Hillsborough (proposed)+

Yes

Hillsborough (current)

No

City of Tampa

Yes

Pasco

No

Do they pick up recyclables?

Hillsborough (proposed)+

Yes ++

Hillsborough (current)

Yes

City of Tampa

Yes, but only in some neighborhoods

Pasco

Yes

How often do they pick up?

Hillsborough (proposed)+

Twice weekly for trash, once weekly for yard waste, once weekly for recyclables

Hillsborough (current)

Twice weekly for trash, once weekly recyclables

City of Tampa

Twice weekly for trash, once weekly for yard waste, once weekly for recyclables

Pasco

Twice weekly for trash, twice monthly for recyclables

Do they pick up yard waste seperately?

Hillsborough (proposed)+

Yes

Hillsborough (current)

No

City of Tampa

Yes, but only in some neighborhoods

Pasco

No

+ One of eight proposals

++ Yes, including more items such as corrugated cardboard, tin cans, metal cans, junk mail, glossy magazine paper and some plastic containers

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