Waste not, want not: City to open garbage bidding

There's been a lot of trash talk at City Hall these days.

The City Council voted Feb. 10 to open bidding for the city's garbage collection contract held by Minneapolis Refuse Inc. (MRI) since 1971.

Garbage collection is roughly split in half, with MRI, a group of private haulers, managing the west side and the city's Public Works department managing the east side. MRI's contract is worth $6.4 million this year.

Property owners Downtown now are responsible for independently contracting with haulers to pick up trash, but that might change. When the Council voted to open the bidding for MRI's contract, it also passed a motion calling for a hearing to look at organizing the garbage collection process Downtown. The hearing is scheduled for April 18.

City Councilmember Lisa Goodman (7th Ward) urged the Council to consider the change. Under the current system, several garbage haulers can serve property owners on one block.

&#8220We would eliminate the repetitive trucks in the alleys and at buildings if it were organized because it would be on a schedule, whereas now it's a complete free-for-all,” she said.

She has fielded several complaints from residents disturbed by noisy garbage trucks at all hours of the day.

&#8220We're a growing city with increasing transit needs. Having the garbage collection Downtown organized would result in a better use of public-right-of-way Downtown, as well as more control on the getting [the haulers] to follow the law,” she said.

The Council's discussion about Downtown garbage collection practices came amid a nearly two-hour debate on whether to issue a request for proposals (RFP) seeking bidders on the lucrative 35-year garbage contract held by MRI.

The Council vote on the garbage contract was 11-2 with Council President Barb Johnson (4th Ward) and Councilmember Sandy Colvin Roy (12th Ward) voting no.

Colvin Roy, chair of the Transportation and Public Work Committee, advocated a 180-day process in which the city's garbage haulers would have an opportunity to weigh in on the a plan to reorganize the city's collection system. &#8220This process invites in everyone,” Colvin Roy said of her plan.

Johnson raised concerns about the timing of the RFP and cautioned against &#8220prematurely putting something out on the street.”

A majority of Councilmembers spoke in favor of issuing an RFP, while also lauding MRI for a track record of excellent service.

Northeast's Councilmember Paul Ostrow (1st Ward) called opening bidding a key element of good government.

&#8220We need to have a competitive process for all of our contracts,” he said, highlighting the city's RFP process for selecting management teams for the Downtown parking ramps and the Hennepin Avenue Theater District as recent examples. &#8220We're not risking anything by getting information.”

Uptown's Councilmember Ralph Remington (10th Ward) also supported the RFP process but said he wanted to make sure it protects the interests of labor, women and minorities.

Mayor R.T. Rybak also urged the Council to open the bidding process. &#8220We're talking trash in City Hall, and that's a good thing,” he said before the Council voted on the issue.

City staff members will an issue a RFP by April 17, and the Council is expected to make a decision on the contract by June 30.

MRI's contract expires June 30, 2007.