PALMETTO -- The city of Palmetto is considering extending its solid waste contract with Waste Management as it sorts through multiple protests filed by the two haulers still in the hunt for a contract worth an estimated $1.75 million annually.
The city finds itself in the same situation as other cities and counties across the area with solid waste contracts coming up for renegotiation, and highly competitive companies vying for lucrative public contracts.
Palmetto's process began in early 2014 with the city facing a March contract expiration with Waste Management. Like other towns, it had hauler representatives fill its galleries during city commission meetings making an argument for their services. Palmetto's process to secure a contract has stalled with the top two haulers filing protests, according to documents obtained by the Herald.
With competitors turning up the heat at city meetings, officials opted not to renew its existing contract last spring and instead, put the services out for bid through a request
for proposal. To allow time for that, the city agreed to a 10-month contract extension with Waste Management. That extension expires at the end of this month.
The city is now seeking an additional six-month extension because of objections from both haulers to either the RFP or the ranking committee's scoring system.
While Waste Management ultimately emerged with the highest ranking over Progressive Waste Solutions, the hauler has delayed its own potential contract with a protest it filed before knowing it would be recommended for the contract. In a letter dated Dec. 12 -- 10 days after the ranking committee's meeting -- the city received an objection from Waste Management attorney Brennan Donnelly of Messer Caparello, in Tallahassee.
Donnelly objected to the city's RFP awarding extra points to a "locally owned" business, stating the competition was merely leasing land in Palmetto and as a transfer station does not pay property taxes in the city.
"It is, in fact, headquartered in Ontario, Canada," wrote Donnelly.
Progressive Waste attorney Grant. J. Smith responded to Waste Management's objections Dec. 17, writing that Waste Management had filed its protest too late and that under city ordinances, Waste Management had six days, not 10, to file an objection.
Smith also countered the non-local argument, stating, "Progressive does, in fact, own and operate its facilities in the city" and pays both city and county taxes on that property.
According to the Manatee County Property Appraiser's Office, Progressive paid almost $6,000 in property taxes for its transfer-station property in March.
While Progressive is disputing Waste Management's protest, it also filed a protest of its own Dec. 8 and again Dec. 26, claiming the RFP documents fail to identify how points for prices would be figured into the evaluation, and calling the forms used by the ranking committee "arbitrary and capricious."
Smith pointed to conflicting high and low scores with at least one evaluator as evidence that the subject matter used for scoring was too subjective. Smith also said at least one committee member changed her scores after initially reading them out loud into the record.
"The RFP evaluation-criteria scoring process was not consistently or properly followed in the manner contemplated in the RFP," Smith concluded.
The scoring between the two competitors was close, with three of the five ranking committee members giving Progressive a higher score than Waste Management, but the average score left Waste Management with a 4.32 out of 5, compared with Progressive's 4.31.
Palmetto Public Works Director Allen Tusing sat on the committee.
"The rankings were very close," he said. "Those rankings and the committee's recommendation were expected prior to Jan. 31, but protests by both haulers in the midst of the RFP and ranking process makes that unlikely because those disputes are not likely to be resolved prior to the Jan. 31 expiration date. That's why we will be asking the commission for a six-month extension."
According to Jim Freeman, city clerk, the city must now respond to the protests. He said those responses would be sent out prior to Monday's meeting.
"They can either accept our response to the protests or appeal them to the mayor," said Freeman. "If they still aren't satisfied, then they still have the right to appeal directly to the commission."
Tusing said the city deliberately took its time in the RFP process with hopes to avoid protests.
"We took our time to get the bids because we wanted to do everything right to avoid having a long, drawn out process like other cities have had with solid waste contracts over the past year," he said. "We wanted to get as much resolved as possible beforehand, but apparently that didn't happen."
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter at @urbanmark2014.