County declines to tinker with solid waste contract

CLEWISTON — Commissioners flinched when Public Works Director Shane Parker reported this month it’d cost almost $1 million to get toters for all unincorporated Hendry County residents’ garbage and recyclables. So they took no action Jan. 8 but agreed they’ll have to before the end of their contract with hauler Waste Connections Inc. in a few years.

“How in the world are we going to spend a million dollars on garbage cans?” asked Commissioner Michael Swindle. His colleague Darrell Harris quickly said, “We’re not!”

“Fine with me,” replied Mr. Swindle.

Back in 2017, they’d asked Mr. Parker to negotiate an extension of the WCI contract, which was done for a seven-year term at a uniform countywide rate of $235 per year, with collection staying at twice a week. Last November, they asked if they could modify the contract to get toters for all customers who did not have them.

But the needed 4,067 95-gallon containers for solid waste and 7,148 65-gallon containers for recyclables would cost a total of $881,795, and the commissioners would have to raise the Municipal Services Benefit Unit assessment rate to provide them.

No assessment increase had been anticipated until at least 2023, but at that time the fund would be in the red. At present, Hendry County is spending just over $200,000 per year of contingency funds from the Solid Waste MSBU budget, meaning, as Commissioner Karson Turner pointed out, that “our costs are exceeding our revenues in our solid waste fund today.”

Mr. Parker told the board: “One option you may want to consider is in five years, your contract is going to be up with WCI. You put it out to rebid; you include the cost of containers in the bid. You might be surprised at what you get, because you’re going to have a lot of people looking, and you can spread that cost over a longer-term contract, maybe 12 or 14 years.”

Mr. Harris said he’d read the staff report, “and I just think we should keep everything the same right now.”

Commissioner Swindle said, “It’s inconveniencing some folks to have to buy cans — I’m one of them — but I’ll keep buying them, I guess.”

Gesturing toward Mr. Parker, Commissioner Harris said, “Then the only thing he’s got to worry about is the contingency fund that he’s been using. Just don’t let it get too low, and to do it in a simple way, we could just go up $10 a time to try to pay it back.”

Mr. Parker suggested small increases every two years “so you don’t have a big one and residents get mad.”

Board Chairman Mitchell Wills noted that some are angry now “because part of the county has the toters and part doesn’t. So you can see that they’re paying the same amount of money as anyone else but not receiving the full service, so that’s the complaint. And it’s a genuine complaint … and something that we need to look at going forward.”

There was some discussion of possibly going to one-day-a-week pickup. Mr. Turner asked, “What would be outcry be, though, if you went to one? Is that going to set people on fire?” Mr. Parker replied that it wouldn’t make much difference in the yearly cost (only $20 less or so) and that residents would be likely to complain. Mr. Harris said he didn’t think that was correct.

But Mr. Parker said, “I’d pay the $20, personally, just to have the trash picked up on (holidays). I’m not saying anything bad about MCI, but if you put it out to bid competitively, then pencils get real sharp because they’re buying for the contract. And (if) you get it long-term, you’ll be able to get those cans included for everyone in the county.”

County Administrator Jennifer Davis pointed out that the contract could be modified by mutual agreement, but there was little enthusiasm for that because the county still does not know yet what the final total cost will be for Hurricane Irma debris removal — and that sure-to-be hefty price also must come out of the Solid Waste MSBU budget. The amount of federal reimbursement has not been determined.

South Lake O reporter/editor Chris Felker can be reached at cfelker@newszap.com.

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