- New company to haul Buncombe trash
- County closer to 911 agreement
- Honor and Remember flag gets unanimous support
by Brian Postelle
Republic Services of North Carolina, better known locally as GDS, has been picking up curbside trash and recyclables in Buncombe County since 2000, but it appears that a new company may soon be taking over that job.
Republic Services is a national company that, according to its Web site, operates in 40 states and 3,000 municipalities, including Asheville. But in a 4-1 vote at its Sept. 15 meeting, Buncombe County commissioners decided to go another direction for county collection, voting to bring in Florida-based Waste Pro. Requiring a second vote to ratify, the move could put 35 GDS employees out of work — although Waste Pro says that if it does take over servicing 25,000 county households in 2010, it would give first shot to GDS employees when hiring.
The board's Valley Street meeting room usually has plenty of seats to choose from, but this time chairs were filled with representatives from three companies as well as GDS employees. Whereas GDS representatives defended their record and touted their experience working the roads of Buncombe County, Waste Pro and Waste Industries, which is also based in Florida, seemed focused on reassuring GDS employees about their hiring plans and highlighting their benefits and bonuses.
Buncombe County renews its exclusive contract for trash and recycling removal every ten years and the three companies were the only ones to reply to a call for bids and proposals by the county. GDS' bid was far and away the highest, at $17.03 per household per month. The company now charges $14.70 for that same service, and Waste Industries and Waste Pro's bids were closer to that target, at $14.55 and $14.20 respectively. The contract only applies to unincorporated areas of Buncombe County.
But GDS Vice President Drew Isenhour countered that the company's experience is worth the rate. "While I was astonished as anyone at the difference in prices and proposals, I think we have the experience in Buncombe County and have demonstrated that experience."
Isenhour told commissioners that the rise in charges was justified because of higher tipping fees at the county landfill, a recent increase in the number of bags allowed per household and the refusal of the county to reimburse the company for recyclables. "If it's all about price, I suggest you take one of the others," he said.
In the past, Buncombe County has reimbursed GDS $33 a ton to cover the bill from Curbside management, which receives the recyclable material. That policy is being discontinued, said County Waste Manager Jerry Mears. "There should be a little bit of revenue there," Mears told Xpress after the meeting. "The hauler will have to negotiate that with Curbside Services."
When it won the contract in 1999, GDS bid $11.34 per household, a rate $3.36 lower than is being charged now. Under the contract, Isenhour noted, the company cannot raise its rates during the first two years of service. That was another factor in the company's decision to submit a higher bid, he said.
County resident and board meeting regular Jerry Rice told the commissioners that there is a level of service expected that could make a higher rate the better bet. "There's more to it than the bottom line," he said.
And Land-of-Sky Regional Planner Holly Bullman praised GDS' work for recycling awareness."I consider them a key stakeholder in educating the region's youth about recycling," Bullman said.
Representatives from the other companies, meanwhile, assured the board of their ability to do the job to expected standards and to navigate the mountainous roads of Buncombe County. "This is not unfamiliar terrain," said Waste Pro regional Vice President Tim Dolan.
Mears gave the commissioners a rundown of the decision-making process, including rankings based on price, technical ability and previous performance before announcing that the staff recommendation was to hire Waste Pro.
He also assured the board that it was not just Waste Pro's lowest bid that earned that recommendation. "The basis of awarding the franchise will not be solely based on low cost," he said. "We expect the companies to put their best game forward and provide information in their proposals that will make them stand out and that will really make the choice clear."
But a few minutes later, he backpedaled, emphasizing that cost should be the most important criteria when making the selection. "Strictly, all we're asking for is the cheapest rate for the citizens of Buncombe County to get their waste hauled," he said.
Commissioner Bill Stanley saw it differently, noting there was no way to guarantee in the contract that Waste Pro would hire the former GDS workers. "I'm thinking about 35 Buncombe County people out of work," he said. "People can say they are going to hire them, but it is not written in stone." Stanley made a motion to award the contract to GDS but got no second.
Commissioner Carol Peterson followed by making a motion to hire Waste Pro, which was seconded by Commissioner Holly Jones. The motion passed 4-1 with Stanley voting no.
In order for the contract to be made official, the board must take a second vote, which is scheduled for their next meeting on Oct. 6.
Together at last?
Since 2003, Buncombe County and the City of Asheville have been trying to finalize an agreement that would consolidate 911 emergency services, and it may soon be time to sign on the dotted line. Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution that removed a troublesome $2.5 million payout to Asheville if the county backed out of the agreement. In the early days of the partnership, AsheviIle had held off on seeking funding of its own in order to combine efforts with the county, which now will receive the funds to operate the entire system. The $2.5 million was intended to serve as a safety buffer in case the city got left out on a limb by Buncombe County. In June, the board cried foul on that provision.
The new agreement will supply Asheville with a certain portion of funding based on the amount of phone lines and cell phones within its municipal boundary.
The next stop for the revised draft agreement is City Council chambers for Council's Sept. 22 meeting.
Run it up the pole
Following its August approval by Asheville City Council, the Honor and Remember flag earned a nod from the commissioners. A national movement is afoot to gain official federal recognition for the flag, which is designed in remembrance of America's war dead. (The flag can be viewed at www.honorandremember.org.)
The board unanimously approved a resolution supporting a U.S. House bill to adopt the flag.