Prairie Village is for the first time in 14 years considering putting its waste removal contract out to bid.
Prompted in part by the service problems the city has experienced since Deffenbaugh was sold to Waste Management, the city is pulling together preliminary information on which competitors might be interested in taking on the city’s trash and recycling program.
Assistant City Administrator Wes Jordan on Tuesday gave the council an overview of the city’s current contract with Waste Management as well as the history of the city’s relationship with the company. Long-time council members Ruth Hopkins and Steve Noll along with now-Mayor Laura Wassmer corroborated Jordan’s account of an incident between the city and Deffenbaugh when the contract last went out to bid in 2002. Jordan told the council that Deffenbaugh representatives had provided a quote to the city and a verbal agreement to hold to that pricing provided the city didn’t put the contract out for a bid. When the city proceeded with a bid anyway, Deffenbaugh raised its quote by approximately 20 percent — which was still lower than the quote the only other competitor to enter a bid gave the city.
“The competition wasn’t out to drive that bid price down, and the market rate was more than that,” Jordan said. “I think it has been that philosophy every three years [when the Deffenbaugh contract came up] that…the council has directed city staff to renegotiate.”
Councilor David Morrison suggested that Deffenbaugh’s campaign contributions to former Mayor Ron Shaffer may also played a role in the city’s decision not to put the contract out for bid in recent years.
Still, there was no clear consensus among members of the council that putting the service out to bid would yield major savings or service improvements to residents. Jordan noted that a new carrier would need to staff up to take over the contract — the largest single-city waste hauling contract in the area, as most cities leave it to their homes associations to arrange for waste removal — and that such industries are finding it harder and harder to attract qualified employees.
Among the biggest impediments to a competitor coming in an taking over the service would be the need to replace the nearly 17,000 trash and recycling receptacles Deffenbaugh has distributed to 8,376 homes in the city. Deffenbaugh — not the city — owns those containers, so a new trash hauler would have to purchase and distribute replacements. Jordan said that with each container costing approximately $60, a new contractor would have to factor $1 million into their bid just for container replacement.
At present, Deffenbaugh’s services cost each Prairie Village home $14.50 per month. Council Ted Odell said he didn’t think it was likely that a competitor could significantly reduce that price, and that the city should instead use its leverage to renegotiate with Deffenbaugh.
“I just don’t see what we benefit from going out to bid,” he said.
But other councilors countered that the bidding process — and the associated risk to Deffenbaugh of losing the business — was the only real leverage the city had.
“I think we owe it to our residents to go out to bid,” said Councilor Ashley Weaver. “It’s been long enough.”
The council directed Jordan to further research potential competitors, their pricing, and whether the city could benefit from collaborating with neighboring municipalities on jointly bidding out their contracts.