Omaha City Council rejects trash contract; mayor to meet with council to find a way forward (copy)

Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert testifies to the City Council Tuesday before they rejected her favored trash contract, 6-1.

The Omaha City Council sent Mayor Jean Stothert a message Tuesday about the city’s next trash contract, rejecting her recommended bid with a 6-1 vote.

The vote, at least temporarily, buried the mayor’s favored trash bid, a 10-year, $22.7 million-a-year deal with Spain-based FCC Environmental.

But the mayor said she couldn’t tell from the council’s discussion what kind of contract council members want. She plans to meet with members to find a way forward. The mayor said she would not send the council another contract to consider until she was sure it could secure passage.

“I watched the conversations today,” Stothert said Tuesday. “I really wasn’t sure what they wanted, what they’re asking for.”

Under the mayor’s bid, Omaha households would have been issued two 96-gallon carts — one for trash and yard waste, the other for recycling.

The mayor had sought to add a separate contract for unlimited seasonal curbside yard waste pickup for six weeks each spring and fall.

Council members’ message centered on two themes — support for reconsidering the city’s low bidder, Minnesota-based West Central Sanitation, and questions about costs.

Several council members, including Pete Festersen and Brinker Harding, said they needed more information before they could consider the mayor’s plan.

They said they didn’t want to vote to approve a contract before they knew how much the mayor’s supplemental yard waste program would cost.

Most, including Aimee Melton and Rich Pahls, said they hoped the mayor would overcome her concerns and forward a West Central bid to the council.

The Minnesota company offered to provide three carts to each Omaha household, and separate yard waste collection and composting, for $22.2 million a year.

Its two-cart bid, which was more comparable to the city’s recommended FCC bid, came in at about $16 million, roughly $7 million less than FCC’s bid.

The mayor and Public Works officials have said they don’t want to take a risk with a garbage hauler that needs to double in size to serve Omaha.

They also questioned the Minnesota company’s ability to secure financing, a question owner Don Williamson addressed with letters from potential lenders.

“I think the options are still open,” Harding said. “And there’s still a strong desire to consider West Central.”

Councilman Vinny Palermo of South Omaha was the lone member to vote in favor of the contract. He said he wanted people to be able to put their garbage out in the morning and come back and see it gone.

The FCC bid, with the mayor’s supplemental yard waste plan, would get that done. Others, including Councilman Chris Jerram, weren’t so sure.

Several raised concerns about the city’s ability to find companies able to reliably pick up yard waste on 12 total Saturdays in the spring and fall.

The next step in the process is for the mayor and Public Works to discuss their options and forward the council another bid to consider.

Stothert could send essentially the same FCC plan back to the council, a city lawyer told Melton before the vote.

Stothert also could send the council a different bid from FCC or a bid from another company.

The mayor said she aims to again seek council preferences on the number of carts, level of service and cost, but said she won’t raise taxes to pay for trash service.

The city’s trash bids expire July 29, said Jim Theiler, assistant director of Public Works.

After that, City Attorney Paul Kratz said, it’s up to the bidding companies to decide whether to extend the time the council has to act.

The city’s current contract with Waste Management runs through the end of 2020.

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