PAWTUCKET — Now that the waste transfer station has been leased to a private company, the city is exploring the possibility of privatizing its trash collection and recycling services as well in a plan that could involve two other communities.
The City of Pawtucket's website contains a request for proposals (RFP) for refuse and recycling services for the cities of Pawtucket, Central Falls and East Providence. The project for a vendor consists of providing curbside refuse and recycling collection of residential and municipal properties (including schools) within the city limits of Pawtucket, Central Falls and East Providence.
It also states that all refuse and recycling collected within these municipalities as a part of these services shall be hauled to Pawtucket's Grotto Avenue transfer station, which is now being overseen by the private vendor Waste Haulers.
There was a mandatory pre-bid proposal conference held on Tuesday for interested vendors, with a June 12 deadline to submit an RFP.
According to the RFP, the successful bidder shall provide and furnish all labor, materials, fuel, necessary tools, expendable equipment and supplies, vehicles, transportation services, necessary permits and any other incidentals required to collect and dispose of refuse and recyclables as outlined in the contract.
It also states that all refuse and recyclables collected within the cities shall be delivered to Pawtucket's transfer station on Grotto Avenue. The city, or a third-party contractor, will then load all refuse into containers at the transfer station for delivery to the state landfill in Johnston.
For Pawtucket and Central Falls, the trash collection and recycling is done in-house, with union employees who are part of each city's Department of Public Works. In Pawtucket, there are 24 employees who are involved in sanitation, while Central Falls has 9. Both cities also own their trucks and other related equipment. In the fiscal year 2013 budget for Pawtucket, about $1.4 million has been proposed to operate the refuse collections.
East Providence, on the other hand, already uses a private vendor to handle its trash collection, with a contract that is renewed annually.
Antonio Pires, the director of administration for Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien, said the privatization concept is something that city officials have been discussing ever since they began looking to cut costs and increase revenue to deal with a $12.9 million budget deficit. He said the idea of combining forces with some neighboring communities to maximize the financial benefit is something that Grebien talked about soon after taking office as part of his five-year strategic plan.
Pires said that discussions about privatizing and combining the trash services began several months ago with City Falls officials working under the state-appointed receivership. These talks led to conversations with East Providence officials, where that financially troubled community is under the supervision of a state-appointed budget commission. He added that this regionalized approach to municipal services is also a concept that Gov. Lincoln Chafee has been pushing as a way for cash-strapped cities and towns to improve their finances.
Pires said city officials will be comparing the costs of operating the trash services in-house versus hiring a private vendor. Additionally, he said they will be looking at the transfer station to see if there is a way to get “a better bang for the buck” through the increase in tonnage that would result from the joint waste disposal and recycling effort.
Then idea behind the shared services concept, Pires said, is to see if there would be savings for other communities as well as savings and increased revenue for Pawtucket so it is “a winning situation all around.” However, he added, “Obviously, that will depend on the bids that are received.” In its contract with Waste Haulers, Pawtucket stands to gain additional revenue if the tonnage taken in at transfer facility is increased.
Pires noted that the cost analysis from the RFPs for Pawtucket and Central Falls, which handle their sanitation services in-house, would be different than that of a community like East Providence where the services are already privatized. He said that in East Providence's case, the city could possibly benefit from being able to get a lower contracted vendor rate than they have now.
Noting that the collective bargaining agreement for Pawtucket's municipal workers expires on June 30 and the city is asking for significant “give-backs” in the next contract, Pires said it also seemed like a good time to do a cost-comparison of in-house versus private. When the RFPs come in, “we will be able to make a comparison to see if it makes sense to privatize,” said Pires. “It also gives the unions something to look at” as benefits are being negotiated, he added.
Augie Venice, president of ASCME Local 1012, which represents the Pawtucket sanitation workers, said the union is obviously unhappy at the prospect of 24 city employees losing their jobs and intends to do a cost analysis of its own. “We're studying the recycling and trash collection to determine the costs of privatizing and what our costs are, and we're also looking to see if we can find ways to save money,” he said.
Venice said that talks about privatizing the trash collections are nothing new, and the matter was last explored a few years ago under the administration of former Mayor James Doyle. The last time the city went out to bid, the union was able to show that it would cost $90,000 more to privatize what was being done in-house.
”We are going to prove to the city we can do the trash collection cheaper and save the taxpayers money,” said Venice. “We're pretty confident that privatizing the trash collection will cost the city more money.”
East Providence's director of Public Works, Stephen Coutu, said that the city has had its trash services privatized for well over a decade and is currently under contract with MTG Disposal. He said that the contracts are renewed annually, and the city is exploring the joint RFP approach to see if any savings can be derived in its next vendor contract from the regional approach to services. As East Providence deals with its own financial crisis, “every little thing is being looked at,” he stated.