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Tuesday, February 27, 2018 by Jessi Devenyns

Dumpster contract headed to Council, hung up on lobbying ordinance rewrite

As City Council continues to debate the policies associated with the anti-lobbying ordinance, Austin solid waste contracts are beginning to expire with very little recourse for renewals. The latest casualty is city-owned facilities’ dumpster collection services.

On Feb. 14, Austin Resource Recovery asked the Zero Waste Advisory Commission for a $1,511,385 increase on its existing dumpster collection services contract as well as an extension of services for another 19 months with Phoenix-based Republic Services. After a prolonged silence, commissioners moved unanimously to recommend the extension of this contract to Council.

The contract that “provides trash dumpsters and roll-off containers as well as compactors and balers for cardboard, of various sizes and collection frequencies, for City owned or operated facilities and parks” is set to expire on July 31.

Republic Services tried to renegotiate its contract with the city last year as well. That time, Council denied a three-year, $7.7 million contract for Republic to collect and dispose of waste from city facilities and at special events.

Now, instead of trying to rebid a new contract, Republic is asking for an extension of its current one.

Due to the ongoing anti-lobbying ordinance rewrite discussions, Tammie Williamson, the assistant director of Resource Recovery, explained that the opportunity to obtain a replacement contract is currently on hold. According to her, an extension of the current contract is the optimal solution given the current predicament being faced by solid waste services.

Adam Gregory of Texas Disposal Systems acknowledged the absurdity of halting trash services but also questioned the intelligence of continually extending contracts, saying, “There are a number of other contracts coming down the pipe; are we going to keep pushing these things (contract renegotiations) off? At no stage in this process has Council directed staff to halt purchasing activities.”

He also said that prolonging the contract “removes an incentive to move more quickly on these things.”

Williamson stuck to her opinion, firmly stating that since the city “can’t be certain when the Council will take action on the ALO,” the only alternative is an extension of the current contract or emergency purchasing if the contract is left to expire.

However, according to her, an emergency purchase would result in a high price increase.

Extending the current contract for 19 months does not obligate the city to remain with the service provider for the entire duration. Williamson likened it to a month-to-month contract. Once they are operating within the extension period, if the anti-lobbying question is resolved, Resource Recovery will be able to cancel the contract at any point and bid for a new one.

Gregory, however, painted a different picture when he spoke with the Austin Monitor. He claimed that the city’s ability to cancel the contract is “only because they have a termination clause,” which all contracts contain. Using it, however, is rarely done, because according to Gregory using this clause can result in damaging the trust that entities place in the city’s contracts.

He told the Monitor that staff “didn’t really tell the whole story” to the commission.

Jim Nias, an attorney with Jackson Walker LLP who represents Republic Services, spoke in support of extending the contract. He told commissioners that the current provider has continually provided good services. “That’s why they keep getting recommended for extension by city staff,” he said.

Williamson did acknowledge that this is not an ideal situation in which to renew a contract. “We’re hoping just like everyone else that the ALO is complete, because we have several contracts coming up in this situation,” she said.

Council is scheduled to vote on the contract extension at its March 22 meeting.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

Austin Resource Recovery: Formerly Solid Waste Services. The department in charge of handling solid waste disposal, recycling, and--in what is still a pilot program--curb-side composting for the City of Austin.

City of Austin Anti-lobbying ordinance: Enacted December 2011, this ordinance provides a no-contact period for firms bidding for City of Austin contracts.

City of Austin Zero Waste Advisory Commission: An Austin City Council advisory commission. Its members are charged to "[r]eview and analyze the policies and resources relating to solid waste management in the city and advise council on solid waste management policies and resources." Formerly the Solid Waste Advisory Commission.

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