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County to negotiate with Republic Services on extension of hauling contract

Commissioner Steve Champion is interested in receptacles that can be picked up mechanically.
Published Feb. 22, 2017

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County commissioners have given Republic Services the opportunity to extend its waste collection contract with the county until at least the end of 2021.

Commissioners voted 4-0 earlier this month to begin negotiations with Republic for a three-year extension of its contract instead of using a citizens committee to discuss waste-hauling options and then seeking bids from providers.

Last August, the commission agreed to the citizens committee, and in late September the group met to begin looking at the various options. Scott Harper, the county's solid waste manager, said the county has talked one on one with various trash-hauling companies to understand the perspective of haulers and sent out a survey to see how other counties handle their solid waste.

One of the findings in the survey was that about half of Florida uses a cart system, which means residents put their waste into uniform carts that can be rolled to the curb and emptied mechanically. Several years ago, when Hernando asked voters to approve a universal countywide waste-collection system, voters rejected the idea. They didn't want to wrangle with the big rolling carts.

Harper said his goal, with whatever method the commission decided, was to provide the best service option for the best price.

Currently, Hernando customers, except for those who live in the city of Brooksville, pay a fee ranging from $8.18 to $10.47 a month for twice-a-week garbage pickups, once-a-week yard waste service and once-a-week recycling service.

Republic began serving Hernando residents countywide on Jan. 2, 2012. For weeks after the takeover, a myriad of problems plagued the company. From missed pickups to improper billing, Republic was challenged because the company failed to fully communicate the changes to customers, employees missed entire collection areas and previous haulers did not leave customer lists behind. Republic's customer care phone lines were overwhelmed.

But in recent months, few customer complaints have been heard, according to commission Chairman Wayne Dukes and Commissioner Nick Nicholson, who both spoke favorably about Republic's service and their interest in extending the contract.

During its time as the county's waste-hauling provider, Republic also has been generous with political candidates. The company has contributed $11,100 since 2012, according to the supervisor of elections website. Dukes received $2,500 from Republic during his re-election campaign in 2014, and Nicholson received $1,000 in 2015.

Harper gave commissioners two options. One was to simply negotiate a three-year extension with Republic, a provision that is in its current contract. The other was to move forward with the citizens committee, with plans to bid out the service later this year. The new hauler would take over Jan. 1, 2019.

Hearing the committee discussion or seeking other bidders could provide different options, such as automated pickups and single-stream recycling, which allows residents to put all of their recyclables into one bin. Getting more people interested in recycling could help the county move toward the state's goal of having 75 percent of the community's waste stream recycled, Harper noted in his presentation.

Commissioner Steve Champion said he would like to have a discussion about options and was especially interested in the standard trash and recycling receptacles that can be picked up mechanically. He said those might clean up the look of some areas.

But both Champion and Commissioner John Allocco voiced concern that Republic might be reluctant to go with just a three-year renewal if it were to switch to a new pickup method requiring new equipment.

Harper noted that the current agreement states that, if the county were to go to the cart method, discussions would revert to a new seven-year contract rather than a three-year renewal.

But any contract negotiation can include discussions about the provisions of the contract, according to County Administrator Len Sossamon. He suggested that the county begin talks with Republic to find out what it might be willing to do. Since the county is several months away from having to bid the contract if commissioners aren't satisfied with Republic's answers, there would still be time to change direction, Sossamon said.

When Allocco asked if there would be a timing issue, Harper said, "We'll make whatever work.''

Contact Barbara Behrendt at bbehrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

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