Newport Beach looks at outsourcing

The Newport Beach City Council voted to outsource its printing services and to inch forward in what could eventually be the privatization of its refuse collection services.

The shutting down of the city's in-house print shop in favor of a contract with Office Depot will result in one layoff and is expected to save the city about $70,000 per year, a staff report said. Another print shop employee plans to retire.

Newport's new Civic Center, which is set to host its first council meeting Dec. 11, will not have space for its own print shop. Furthermore, staff reports said, the increasing digitization of city operations has resulted in a steep drop in the number of hard copies produced by the shop, from 5.1 million to 1.8 million per year over the last decade.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that the Civic Center is in Corona del Mar. It is in Newport Beach.

While the outsourcing of printing services passed unanimously as an item on the consent calendar, a report on the possibility of outsourcing the city's trash collection services generated considerably more debate.

Newport's Municipal Operations Director Mark Harmon laid out some of the findings of a study conducted by the firm HF&H; Consultants, which the city had commissioned to analyze whether it could save money by contracting with a private firm for its trash services.

The study found that outsourcing trash services may result in some savings to the city, but officials pointed out that certain factors specific to Newport, like narrow alleys and residents who enjoy unlimited trash collection, might complicate those savings.

An estimated $1.67 million could be saved per year if the city switched to a private hauler in areas served by the city's in-house trash haulers, the report concluded. Some areas, like Newport Coast, already have private trash collection.

The city, if it keeps its own trash collection service, will also have to buy new trucks to comply with a state air quality rule, which will cost about $2.6 million over three years.

But, Councilman Rush Hill pointed out, the study compared Newport's per-unit costs with those of other SoCal cities that all have automated pick-up, which requires standardized trashbins.

They also require residents to separate out trash, clean recycling and green waste into three different bins.

Newport's current system allows residents to mix all three in any type of trash bin they choose, then recycling is professionally sorted out.

"The determination of savings is that in everything we've looked to privatize, we've said [we'll consider outsourcing] if we can provide the same level of service and save money," he said. "You've not moved me to the point yet of saying that [we'll get] the same level of service."

Councilman Mike Henn said outsourcing discussions are always a balancing act.

"The real proof in the pudding is in the tasting — to get bids," he said. "It's possible [Hill] may be right. There may not be a strong saving. And the only way to figure that out is to go forward here, and to go forward in a very thoughtful way."

As about a dozen of the city's refuse haulers looked on, council members all lauded the department's high level of service, but the group ultimately voted 5 to 1 to work with HF&H; to develop a request for proposals, meaning that the city will solicit plans from private companies to see whether they could provide a similar level of service at a lower cost.

At the same time, the council voted to have staffers evaluate ways of making the existing city department more efficient.

Hill voted against the motion to develop an RFP.

Jamie Newton of the Orange County Employees Assn., who spoke on behalf of the city's haulers said, "It's still early" in any outsourcing process, and that an important element missing from the equation is resident feedback.

Newport's haulers have on average 15 years with the city under their belts, she said, which makes "the service they provide as unique as the citizens of Newport Beach."

The council will likely will revisit the topic in the future in a special meeting or workshop.


Balboa seawalls

In other business, the city voted to accept two reports pertaining to Newport Harbor — the Harbor Commission's objectives for the 2012-13 fiscal year, and a five-year tidelands capital plan.

One of the projects listed in that capital plan is the eventual replacement of aging Balboa Island seawalls. The council voted to contract with URS Corp. to begin developing plans to remedy that situation.

The council also voted to require that written correspondence for council meetings be submitted by 5 p.m. the Monday before the meeting (unless otherwise permitted by law). This allows the council enough time to read and review those letters.

Twitter: @jillcowan

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