A $730,000 Winona County recycling contract has brought curbside pickup to every residence in the county, a new program at the beginning of the year making the area the first in the state to reach most rural households. But the contract and services have produced several problems, and Veolia, Inc., has asked for a nearly 20 percent increase in the original price tag.
The contract change asks for another $160,000, in part because the service has been given to small businesses not included in the original contract, as well as because of the manpower needed to service very rural areas.
Planning and Environmental Services Director Jason Gilman told the board that he had been working with the company for the last three months on the identified problems with the contract. Veolia workers had expressed problems navigating some of the narrow alleyways and dead-end township roads in the county, problems with totes in rural areas secured to mailboxes or other posts so that they don’t blow away, requiring a worker to get out of the truck. The company is also asking for more money to service spots that include clusters of more than five totes.
In addition, the third party contractor who delivered those totes actually left them with small businesses who were not covered by the original contract. Gilman said county staff had negotiated with the company on the small business pickup, and Veolia had agreed to service those small businesses for the lower residential price -- $25 a stop.
The new curbside pickup has resulted in more tons of recycling products collected, and the contract includes some revenue sharing that helps draw down the cost of the service. But Gilman said commodity prices are down, so even though collections have increased by more than 80 percent, the county is receiving much less than it did last year -- about $4,600 per month for the product.
When bids for the original contract were received, a second bid came in at about $100,000 over Veolia’s price. Several commissioners expressed concern that agreeing to the higher price tag could hold legal ramifications with the bidding process, especially since Veolia has requested that the higher price tag be applied retroactively to January, when the service began.
Commissioner Jim Pomeroy asked that County Attorney Karin Sonneman provide a legal opinion on the issue before the board proceeds. He also asked that staff members put together a cash flow analysis, showing how long the waste management reserves might last, and when per parcel collection fees might have to increase to cover the cost of the program.
Commissioner Ward, who had been skeptical of the original contract and predicted that service in the most rural areas would eventually cost more, said she didn’t feel the company was fulfilling the contract now. She said some of her neighbors and constituents had reported that trucks were not always arriving, some only getting monthly services. Veolia, she said, should have known what it was getting into when it signed the contract. “What did they think they signed?” she asked. “We’re not just going to be a bunch of patsies and give them an extra $150,000 just because they asked. They knew what they were bidding.”
Commissioner Greg Olson remarked that residents often forget to put out the recycling totes when the truck comes, and that the county is still being charged for that pickup. “There is a savings there that they still charge for,” he said.
Several board members wondered whether it might be legally necessary to rebid the entire contract, given Veolia is asking for more money than the other original bidder had. Gilman warned that a new bid process could pose a higher price tag still.
Some of the extra fees proposed are for things like totes that aren’t “positioned” right at the street’s edge, and for narrow roads and alleys, and spots where pickup is harder due to parked cars. Pomeroy agreed that the layout of the city of Winona is unique, but said that he felt Veolia should be familiar with this. “I think they should have been in the driver’s seat in understanding those issues when they bid on that,” he said.
A representative from Veolia is expected to attend an upcoming board meeting to discuss the proposed contract changes.