ISLAMORADA -- When the village created an ad-hoc committee in December to help decide what should be included in Islamorada's next garbage contract, the Village Council's intent, as spelled out in its resolution, was to put that contract out to bid.
Since that time the committee itself has unanimously suggested that the village instead negotiate directly with its existing garbage hauler, Advanced Disposal Systems, headed locally by Bruce Williams.
Some council members say they are inclined to heed that advice.
"I'd probably like to negotiate first and see what we get," Councilwoman Deb Gillis said last week.
The council is expected to discuss the matter Thursday, Feb. 28, at the Founders Park Community Center.
At a value of approximately $3.1 million each year, the garbage contract is the largest the village enters into for ongoing annual services, though it is dwarfed by the town's much larger $92 million wastewater construction contract. Advanced Disposal and its predecessors, Veolia Environmental and Onyx, have held the contract since 2003. The village awarded Veolia a five-year no-bid contract extension in 2008, which expires at the end of September.
The new contract could be substantially different. The ad-hoc committee has suggested that the village make significant changes to its waste hauling services, including automated trucks, mandatory recycling for businesses and a residential collection program that uses cost incentives to increase recycling.
In suggesting that the village first negotiate with Advanced Disposal, which purchased Veolia in November, rather than put the contract to bid, committee members cited their satisfaction with Williams' service.
"For me personally, it's the devil you know versus the devil you don't," committee member Dave Makepeace said in an interview last week. "I like the way the operation has been run and we get virtually no complaints."
Makepeace, along with committee Chair Dave Boerner, also said that at this early date a direct negotiation wouldn't be an all-in scenario. If the village couldn't reach an acceptable deal with Advanced Disposal there would still be time to put the contract out for bid before the present contract expires on Sept. 30.
But a decision not to bid the contract likely wouldn't come without some dispute. Last March, when the Florida Auditor General's Office critiqued the village's contracting practices, it was the 2008 no-bid extension of the Veolia contract that auditors singled out.
That extension led to a 19 percent increase in the village's solid waste assessment the following year, the village acknowledged.
At the auditors' suggestion, the village recently tweaked its purchasing ordinance to require documentation of the reasons whenever the town foregoes competitive bidding. Still, since the auditors' report, the council has awarded 14 no-bid contracts, contract extensions and contract amendments while putting just two out for bid.
The fact that putting the garbage contract out to bid would change that balance wasn't lost on some of the council members when they created the ad-hoc garbage committee on Dec. 13. In fact, Vice Mayor Ted Blackburn touted the garbage contract as an example of the council's use of competitive bidding.
Last week, Blackburn said he's still leaning toward bidding, but he also wants to listen to the committee's reasoning when it makes a presentation to the council at Thursday's meeting.
Other council members were split on what to do about the garbage contract during interviews last week.
Gillis and Councilman Mike Forster said they wanted to start by negotiating with Advanced Disposal, while Councilman Dave Purdo said he wants to put the contract out for bid.
Meanwhile, Mayor Ken Philipson said it is too soon to decide either way. The village must first deal with creating a licensing procedure for recycling companies doing business in Islamorada, he said.