County shouldn't get cold feet over fresh deal for trash service
Pressure is being put on Hillsborough County Commissioners to delay asking for new bids for the county's residential garbage service. The only reason to delay would be to give existing haulers more time to stay in their comfortable old deals, and that would only put off an expected price break for the public. County Administrator Mike Merrill has put together a very detailed proposal for enlivening the county's trash-hauling arrangement with a big blast of competition. The facts that service is good and complaints are few are no reasons to dilly-dally. The old contracts expire next September. To give potential new haulers time to get new equipment in place, Merrill wants to award the bids no later than January.At today's meeting, commissioners can get answers to their questions, but we can't think of a question that should stop the process. A lot is at stake. We understand why the companies with contracts don't want to risk losing their Hillsborough business. Rumors that new contracts will bring confusion and missed pickups are based on what happened a decade ago. History need not repeat. Merrill is on top of the process, and he deserves commissioners' trust. Mitch Kessler, an expert in trash hauling hired by the county to help guide the process, has watched similar competitions and heard identical arguments in many other jurisdictions. He tells us that properly implemented, change need not be chaotic. Exaggerating the pain of change is a tactic contract holders always use, no matter who they are. And as for prices, no one can say exactly how much Hillsborough customers can expect to save. "Let's just find out what the market is," Kessler advises, and he's right. Eight companies, including the three companies now serving the county, have the required experience and are qualified to bid in five districts. One company will be allowed to handle no more than two districts. The proposal is for the county to ask for a range of bids for residential pickup, both hand-dumped and automated, both one day per week and two. Recycling is also on the table, with an expectation that Hillsborough County share in the revenue from the sale of the paper, bottles and cans that residents put in the recycle bins. The new bids require that all recycled items be placed in the same container and not separated, as is the present requirement. Savings are likely no matter what service level the county decides on. But the biggest savings will come from once-a-week pickup in large, standardized containers that would be provided to households. If the county decides on once-a-week pickups, no one would have to wait two weeks for garbage service because of a holiday. Holidays would delay service by only one day. The existing system would not change for small haulers and for commercial pickup. The firms that argue that new bids will open a can of worms for commissioners are really worried that something else will emerge: lower profits. And let's remember that the can of competition won't open itself. Our elected representatives must do it. There are important choices to be made but nothing to fear. Any commissioner unwilling to put in the effort to give Hillsborough customers the best possible service at the best possible price is in the wrong job.