96-gallon carts

Trash bins are in a Papillion neighborhood in 2016. Omaha’s next residential waste-hauling contract will likely require 96-gallon covered carts, though people would have the option to downsize.

Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert is trying to revive a trash-hauling contract that a clear majority on the City Council once described as dead on arrival.

The mayor’s latest plan addresses two of the public’s chief complaints about the proposal: the handling of yard waste and the number of carts that people get.

Under the new plan, residents could put unlimited yard waste at the curb on Saturdays for six weeks each spring and fall. Those clippings would be composted. Individual property owners would not pay more.

In addition, larger households could request three carts, instead of two, after 90 days at no additional charge to them.

The seasonal yard waste changes would require bidding out a new contract, separate from the city’s next trash contract. The city expects the program to replace proposed spring and fall yard waste drop-off sites and to cost between $500,000 and $600,000 a year.

Stothert, in an interview Wednesday afternoon, said she aims for the city to cover the cost of the third trash cart for households of five or more. The city would do so by changing a city ordinance that provides additional trash pickup for families of eight or more.

It was not clear how the city or the selected trash contractor would confirm a household’s size. Other households that want more carts would have to pay an additional fee directly to the trash contractor.

Under the original $22.7 million-a-year bid from FCC Environmental of Spain, each household would get two 96-gallon carts. One would be for trash and yard waste combined, picked up weekly; and the other would be for recycling, picked up every other week.

Stothert wants to stick with the 10-year FCC bid, which Public Works officials endorsed. That contract, in its original form, was not likely to secure a single “yes” vote from the City Council, based on interviews with council members. Several said the mayor’s add-ons, if reasonably priced, would make them more open to considering the FCC bid.

The need for the bid add-ons could delay Tuesday’s planned vote on the FCC trash contract, council members told The World-Herald. Many, including Vinny Palermo and Brinker Harding, said they would not vote on the FCC contract without having the yard waste bid or its costs in hand.

There also still seems to be strong support on the City Council — five of seven members — for reconsidering the city’s low bidder. The bids from that group, West Central Sanitation of Minnesota, offer more services for less money than FCC.

For example: West Central is offering separate yard waste collection and three carts to all of Omaha for $22.2 million a year. That’s $500,000 less than FCC’s original two-cart bid with yard waste going to the dump, though West Central’s three-cart bid would charge homeowners for any yard waste beyond what fills a 96-gallon cart each week.

The mayor said her updated plan would boost the value of the FCC bid by offering Omahans unlimited curbside yard waste one day a week in the spring and fall cleanup periods.

HDR reviewed the West Central bid and did not find the company to be incapable of doing the job or to be high risk. However, HDR’s review did express concern that West Central’s bid price appeared low for the level of service to be provided.

Councilman Chris Jerram, voicing reservations also expressed by the mayor, Public Works and city finance officials, questioned how much of a chance the city would be taking by hiring West Central. He has noted that the company would have to double in size to serve Omaha and has warned council members about the difficulties of replacing a garbage contractor were it to fail.

Councilman Pete Festersen said he was still mulling what to do about West Central.

Councilwoman Aimee Melton said the potential savings “might justify the risk.” Councilman Rich Pahls called West Central his “first choice.” Council President Ben Gray, too, said he is willing to reconsider the company.

Stothert, citing concerns about the ability of West Central to grow that much that fast and to secure the needed financing to do so, said it’s not worth the risk. The city should not gamble when another, better solution is possible with FCC, she said.

West Central owner Don Williamson, in recent weeks, has defended his growing company as stable and capable of delivering what it promised in Omaha because it automates more waste collection than its competitors.

Stothert said she would “never” forward a West Central contract to the City Council before the company guaranteed that it had secured the necessary financing. Letters that the company provided to the city confirm interest from banks in lending West Central money but stop short of committing to lending funds to the company, she said. Lenders, in follow-up conversations with the city, said the same, according to a separate city financial review.

The way the process works, Stothert would have to forward a West Central bid to the council for council members to take up a contract with the company.

Melton, in a follow-up statement Wednesday evening, said she understands that she might not get to vote on a West Central bid. She said she appreciated that the mayor had addressed her requests for separate yard waste pickup during peak times and for composting, among others. She called the mayor’s latest proposal a good compromise.