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Hall solid waste services pricey, comprehensive
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The Hall County Board of Commissioners approved awarding solid waste services to the county Thursday after nearly two years of evaluation.

Commissioner Billy Powell received a shout-out from an audience member as he expressed his support of the county’s continuing to operate the services.

The board, however, emphasized cutting costs, with Chairman Richard Mecum saying he’s going to look at salaries and personnel because he believes the county can operate cheaper than a company.

“Eighty percent of a budget is people,” Mecum said.

“I think it’s time to put everybody’s uncertainty in their job at rest and get on with doing the work for Hall County,” Powell said.

“I think you do a great job,” Commissioner Scott Gibbs said to the audience, which included some county employees. “I think you’re going to have to do an even better job.”

Commissioner Craig Lutz said he didn’t see any cost savings from the county’s proposal, except for the previous fee increases in the solid waste assessment and the landfill.

The vote was unanimous, but Lutz and Gibbs said losing $356,000 a year in recycling services can’t continue.

A consulting firm draft report showed the proposal from Hall County Public Works and Utilities was the highest in cost among the four finalists at about $6.2 million annually and an adjusted one-year cost of $5.3 million. But the other proposals from private companies didn’t bid on some services that the county would have to pick up, incurring additional cost along with other residual expenses, such as power and water, Purchasing Manager Tim Sims said.

The county paid $20,000 to the Mercer Group Inc. to evaluate the bids because the county was one of the bidders.

The process was long and confusing, even to the commissioners and county staff. A motion to close the bid process was made, but County Attorney Bill Blalock told commissioners that the process was closed. At Monday’s work session, the consultant had said the process was still open.

Requests for bids were sent out last February, but the due date was rescheduled from April to June when bidders were informed of the decision to hire a third party to evaluate the bids. Mercer issued a draft report at the end of November.

The solid waste division performs many services, including operating all of Hall County’s landfills, operating and maintaining its transfer station, managing and disposing of recycling materials and additional services. Some additional county employee duties include picking up dead animals and providing residents with wood mulch.

Mercer eliminated bidders Santek Waste Services and Waste Pro because their bids weren’t comprehensive. The finalists were the county and private sector companies Advanced Disposal, BFI/Republic Services and Waste Management.

Adjusted prices, as shown in the draft Mercer report to try to compare the bids, for the first year ranged from BFI at about $3.7 million to Advanced Disposal at about $4.2 million to Waste Management at $4.5 million.

Hall County’s bid was reduced by $974,963 in 2013 expenses because those costs were not approved by the commissioners in the final fiscal year budget. Hall County Public Works Solid Waste Operations also uses inmate labor an average of 50 weeks a year and six hours a day.

None of the companies gave a bid on all the services or requirements in the request, offering instead a mix of hauling and disposal services. The Mercer report listed some of the items the companies didn’t bid on, including the Allen Creek landfill closure and post closure activities, most of the additional services and supporting EnviroShare, a program of Hall County’s environmental management system.

The draft report was presented at the commissioners’ work session by Steven Egan Jr., senior vice president of The Mercer Group, but it was not publicly released until after the vote.

“The bids were distinctly different,” Egan said during the work session. “The private sector tended to bid on unit cost. The Public Works and Utilities Department gave an annualized cost. So we had a bit of apples and oranges to try to sort out as we went through this.”

The draft report ended with some recommendations depending on whether commissioners wanted to take a comprehensive or targeted approach. Commissioners seemed to decide at Monday’s work session to discuss it at their retreat later this month before voting on it, but decided to keep it on the agenda. Mercer‘s report indicated the last step was a final report.