For the first time in more than a decade, Prairie Village is considering changing who picks up its garbage.
City council members on Monday asked staff to begin preparing bid documents for Prairie Village’s residential trash contract, currently worth almost $1.5 million a year.
Deffenbaugh Industries Inc. is the city’s current trash hauler, as it’s been since 2002 when the city last opened the contract to competing companies. Deffenbaugh won the bid, but the resulting contract increased the city’s garbage costs 20 percent, which led officials to extend the contract five times rather than risk the open market again.
That sentiment has changed in light of a flood of customer complaints against Deffenbaugh over the past year, including residents complaining of trash not getting picked up, garbage left strewn on streets and yards, rude drivers and poor customer service leading to angry callers inundating City Hall.
Last month, representatives of Deffenbaugh and new parent company Waste Management Inc. acknowledged the problems and told the City Council they have been working to correct the mistakes. Waste Management also came under fire from the Shawnee City Council last month because of complaints about the landfill it operates.
Wes Jordan, assistant to the city administrator, said complaint calls to Prairie Village City Hall have gone down since the company’s appearance before the Prairie Village City Council last month.
But council members said it would be irresponsible not to investigate whether other carriers may be willing to do the job for less.
“I feel we need to do it to be honest and to make sure what we’re doing for the residents is right,” said Councilwoman Ashley Weaver. “(More than) 12 years is a long time.”
Jordan said four other haulers have expressed interest in bidding for the contract: WCA/Town & Country Disposal, Republic Services Inc., Jim’s Disposal Service and Honey Creek Disposal Service Inc. At least three have said they could provide a rate competitive with what Deffenbaugh currently charges.
Jordan and others cautioned that switching companies would require a significant amount of work for city staff and coordination with the city’s 8,400 residential trash customers.
For example, the trash and recycling containers that residents now use actually belong to Deffenbaugh, who would likely want the containers back. The new contract would have to handle the cost of almost 17,000 new containers, which cost around $60 each, and the city would have to oversee the process of swapping them out and reminding residents to use the new ones.
Representatives of two of the companies, Republic and WCA, said the fact the new contract wouldn’t begin until January 2017 means there is plenty of time to prepare.
“If you do make the decision by June or July, there’s a great education time involved,” said Hank Potts, senior area municipal services manager for Republic. “If you tell the bidders you want their transition plan outlined, you know what you’re looking at.”
Several council members expressed interest in adding services to the contract, such as more generous yard waste pickup in the fall and winter. Some asked Potts and Andy Barton, a representative for WCA, if their companies could match Deffenbaugh’s pilot project to investigate curbside glass recycling, which is currently scheduled to begin next month and service around 180 homes between 79th and 83rd streets.
Both said they could consider glass recycling if it was included in the bid, but they warned that glass recycling is difficult because the likelihood of broken glass requires separate trucks and containers while the profit margins for recycled glass are slim.
Jordan said he hopes to put the contract out for bids by May and have the council approve the winning bid by July.
In other business, the city council voted to put on the March 21 agenda a proposed ordinance raising the legal age to purchase tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, within the city from 18 to 21. Five other area cities — Kansas City, Independence, Gladstone, Olathe and Kansas City, Kan. — have already passed the model legislation pushed by Tobacco 21, a national effort aimed at preventing teens from picking up the habit.
The council also considered a presentation by Councilwoman Jori Nelson seeking to change the city’s exterior grant program, which provides city dollars to help subsidize improvements to rundown homes.
Nelson noted that the program was originally designed in 2008 to help property owners who either had or could be cited for code violations because of the state of their homes but lacked the revenue to perform the necessary repairs. The city provides up to 20 percent of the repair cost, or a maximum of $2,500, and limits eligibility to certain areas of town. The value of the repair itself must be worth at least $5,000.
Since then, she said the grants have not been tied to code violations and are going to more valuable homes. For example, she said a recent grant went to help repair the driveway of a home with an assessed value of more than $406,000.
She has proposed expanding the program to all areas of the city, limit the value of homes eligible for the grants and reduce the minimum value of the repair job so more cash-strapped residents can participate.
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