Before they decide how to deliver solid waste services in the most efficient manner, the members of the Hall County Board of Commissioners will decide whether they need help in the process — and if so, how much they’ll pay for that help.
Before the board is a proposal from county staff to hire The Mercer Group to analyze a set of bids submitted earlier this summer on the operation of the county landfill and county compactor sites.
Under the proposal, the group would be paid at a rate of $137 per hour to analyze bids from Hall County’s public works division and other, private bidders who wish to take over all or parts of the county’s solid waste system.
The county put its solid waste services, which are responsible for the county’s 13 compactor sites and transports the collected waste to the landfill for disposal, up for bid this spring.
The move has forced the county’s Solid Waste Division to compete with private companies for providing the service at the lowest cost for taxpayers.
Including the proposals from the Solid Waste Division, county officials received six bids to provide the service.
If hired, Mercer would advise the county on which bid to choose.
Normally, the government puts together a panel of staff members to evaluate bids submitted for county jobs. But since this particular bidding process includes a proposal from colleagues, staff members asked the board to give the job of reviewing the bids to an independent firm.
“To ensure objectivity, county staff would have to remove themselves from the review process,” County Administrator Randy Knighton said Monday.
The Mercer Group, according to its website, offers consulting services for federal state and local governments, as well as private-sector clients.
According to Hall County purchasing manager Tim Sims, the group submitted the lowest qualified bid for the job.
If the board agrees to contract with the group, it could either recommend giving the county’s solid waste services completely to one of the bidders or piecemeal the services through a number of alternate proposals that the bidders made.
Thursday’s scheduled vote is the second time county officials have had the option of choosing the firm.
The board was expected to vote on a contract with the firm at its July 12 meeting; the item would have been on the consent agenda, meaning it would have been voted on with myriad other topics with no discussion that day.
Instead, commissioners singled it out and decided to wait on a vote.
Commissioner Scott Gibbs said there were questions about how much the county would end up paying the firm.
At one point, Gibbs suggested a $20,000 cap on payments to the firm, Sims said.
Gibbs didn’t mention the spending cap at Monday’s work session.
Still, it seems commissioners are planning to spend that much on the analysis.
In Monday’s work session, Commissioner Billy Powell asked: “There’s no way to evaluate these without getting a consulting group?”
Powell later told The Times that he’s opposed to spending $20,000 in consulting fees.
Board Chairman Tom Oliver is also opposed to the expenditure.
Oliver has repeatedly expressed opposition to selling the county landfill. If Mercer suggests such a privatization, Oliver said he would oppose it because, “There are too many unknowns.”
“Once you privatize it, you’re never going to get it back,” Oliver said. “The ability to control my own destiny is not for sale in my book.”
And paying as much as “$25,000 to $30,000” for a recommendation he might not take seems like a waste, Oliver said.
“Can we get somebody and not pay them $20,000 to analyze the bid?” Oliver asked, questioning also whether or not UGA’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government could do the job.
But at least two other commissioners seem in favor of the contract with Mercer.
Commissioner Ashley Bell said he didn’t think it was fair to ask county staff to evaluate the proposals, since at least one is from colleagues.
In response to Oliver’s question about the waste of money, Bell said that would only happen if board members didn’t go into the process with an open mind.
“I just operate off the basis that I don’t think that government is automatically more efficient than the private sector,” Bell said. “We need to find a way of operating our landfill in a better way.”
Gibbs expressed a similar sentiment, saying that his support of the expenditure didn’t necessarily mean that he was “in favor of farming our solid waste out.”
Gibbs pointed to county officials’ ability to cut some $1 million from the agency’s budget last year.
And if this $20,000 allows him to achieve half as much savings, he’s for it.
“I’m willing to spend $20,000 if I could cut half a million out,” Gibbs said.
Commissioner Craig Lutz declined to comment for this report.