Trash hauling savings entices Newport

The last city in Orange County where city employees continue to pick up residents' trash may soon change its practices.

Newport Beach could save as much as $17 million over the next seven years if trash services are outsourced, according to an independent examination of 14 options released Thursday.

Private waste companies already service the newer and more recently annexed sections of the city, such as Sana Ana Heights, Bay Knolls, Newport Ridge and Newport Coast, as well as certain multiple-family apartment and condo complexes.

The city solicited requests for proposals in May. Interested companies could submit proposals for one or both types of trash services: Under one option, residents could put recycleable items into a separate bin. The other option would require trash and recycling be placed together and sorted later by the company, as is done now.

When ranked by savings, CR&R; Waste Services was No. 1 with its proposal that included an at-home recycling option. Ware Disposal Co. ranked No. 2 with a proposal that did not include the at-home recycling possibility. The Costa Mesa Sanitary District contracts with CR&R.;

The expected costs need to be more closely analyzed and compared with the rates in other cities, said Jennifer Muir, spokesman for the Orange County Employees Assn.

She added that she was doubtful of the $17-million savings projected from the leading CR&R; proposal.

"I just don't think that, on its face, this shiny number is plausible," Muir said.

The examination of proposals compared them to information provided by the Newport Beach Employees League, which is part of OCEA.

The league is not technically a bidder but represents the employees who currently pick up the trash. When compared, the league's plan that included recyling ranked ninth while its plan that defers recyling came in at No. 12.

A closer examination of the various offers is warranted in the face of such a "stunning" amount, said Newport Mayor Keith Curry, referring to the $17 million figure.

City staff members plan to recommend that the City Council review the options, pick one of the two types and direct them to negotiate a contract with one or two of the bidders. The finalized contract would then be returned for the council's consideration.

Regardless, the quality of service will not change, Curry said.

"This service will be identical to what you have now, only better," he said of contracting the work.

Many residents remained skeptical, citing a decline in the quality of services following the outsourcing of street sweeping and tree trimming services over the decades.

More than 50 Newport Heights residents gathered at a neighbor's home Wednesday night for a community meeting with city staff and Councilman Tony Petros.

"I walked over here. I'm your neighbor. I enjoy the same trash service you do," Petros said. "It is good to do an inventory of this service."

Several trash employees listened from the back of the crowd as residents came to their defense, peppering city staff with questions.

"I was born in this home. I've seen those blue trucks for my entire life," said Dan Boyd, who hosted the meeting in his backyard.

He called the trash service the city's "third jewel," along with the police and fire departments. He worries that outsourcing the long-time service would be irrevocable and potentially damaging to the residents' quality of life.

"If it's not broken, why fix it?" Boyd asked. "Why take such a huge risk on such a huge unknown?"

The review of the city's trash services fits with the city's ongoing effort to make its operations more efficient, city staff had explained earlier in the evening.

Potential savings of $17 million may be hard to ignore.

"You look for ways to get at long-term savings like this, and this appears to be a good way to do it," said City Manager David Kiff.

Newport Beach has aimed to reduce its costs in the most compassionate way, with practices like offering retirement incentives, he said.

Currently,16 city employees are budgeted to pick up trash in most areas of the city. The city has been paying overtime and a premium to any driver forced to work alone.

To help mitigate these extra expenses, the city recently hired four part-time people, said Mark Harmon, municipal operations department director.

Newport Beach would need to hire more full-time haulers if the council decides to stay with in-house workers, he said.

The council will take up the issue at its meeting Tuesday.

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