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SWAC recommends splitting recycling contract between firms

Tuesday, April 19, 2011 by Michael Kanin

The Solid Waste Advisory Commission has recommended that the Austin City Council find a way to split the city’s single stream residential recycling contract between Balcones Recycling and Texas Disposal Systems. Its suggestion, which the Council can choose to ignore when it considers the matter on Thursday, is contingent on the Solid Waste Services Department’s ability to finalize contract language with Texas Disposal.


As of Monday night, that was no sure thing. Indeed, Texas Disposal CEO Bob Gregory told In Fact Daily that his firm still had a number of issues with language in the contract.


SWAC Commissioners suggested that if the parties are unable to reach an agreement by the April 28 Council meeting that the deal come back to their body. “The gamesmanship and the politics and everything else, it really has come to an end,” said commission co-chair Rick Cofer. “If this is going to get done in a way that is best for the taxpayers, and best for the mission that the Council has really told us to go do … that we have a real opportunity as a community and as the folks in this room to get it done. And to get it done this month.” 


Texas Disposal’s concerns ran to specific differences in the contract that was offered to Balcones and the contract that they say was offered to their firm. These included a difference in the definition of the living wage that each company must provide for employees – specifically that Balcones could offer an average of $11 an hour and that Texas Disposal had to give each of their workers $11 an hour – and storage requirements at each facility.


They also expressed concerns about the so-called “most favored nation” contract provision. Texas Disposal has yet to agree to that clause, or to the conditions surrounding a relatively recent addition that offers participating companies a recycling tonnage floor.


Gregory also suggested that the city could use those and other provisions in the contract to acquire the recycling services of other entities. “We didn’t get into the discussion of the real issues of the city using these contracts to take over commercial and municipal contracts,” he told In Fact Daily. “Those are issues that the staff is insisting that are in the contract. They were never directed to do so by City Council … Balcones doesn’t care about that because they don’t have municipal contracts that they could take over.”


“We can’t agree to something that allows the city to put us out of business with area municipal contracts,” he added.


Texas Disposal and city officials are scheduled to meet today to try to come to terms on the deal. Gregory said that he was pessimistic about working with city staff. “With this staff (I’m) pessimistic,” he said. “With this Council I’m optimistic because I don’t believe the Council will support the staff in the end if the Council knows the truth.”


For his part, Balcones Resources (the parent company of Balcones Recycling) CEO Kerry Getter said that any potential of a postponement was disappointing. “I certainly hope that the Council sees otherwise,” he said. “We’ll see what happens on Thursday.”


The completion of the contract for the city’s single stream recycling program marks something of an end to a process that has taken some time to work its way through the city’s bureaucracy. The search for a private firm to handle Austin’s single stream residential program stretches back to 2008 and has featured heated competition that came with a handful of false starts.

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