NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk will put a proposed bulky waste pickup out to bid against the wishes of Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord, even if Common Council members acknowledge the city may spend more money as a result.
Alvord had proposed amending the contract with City Carting to allow the company to pick up bulky waste on a series of Saturdays along its regular routes, at a maximum cost of $46,750. Members of the Public Works Committee unanimously voted Tuesday to table the motion.
“If you want to pay more, absolutely, let’s put it out to bid,” Alvord said.
Asked about that comment, Alvord said, “I negotiated this with City Carting based on what I know their labor rates are, what the crew size would be in each area and what the tipping fee would be for the anticipated tonnage up to a limit of 100 tons. So we can put it out to bid. I will just tell you that it’s going to come in much higher than what we negotiated.”
Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) replied, first by mentioning that he has served on many of the city’s audit committees in the past, including when he was a Board of Education member.
“It’s always a good idea to not to be that close with the vendors that work with the city over a period of time. Periodically you need to go out to bid. In the long run you end up saving money that way,” he said. “… It’s not something that the auditors look fondly upon, that you set up these relationships and then you continue with them. It cost the city a lot of money when it came to food services for the schools, transportation for our schools. They have since changed our policies. I think generally, as a rule of thumb, it’s not a bad idea to go out to bid. If it turns out it costs us a little more money in the short run, so be it. I think it’s just the better approach.”
The issue is tied in some council members’ minds to a proposal to stop allowing Norwalkers to dump one ton free at the transfer station. Alvord said last month that Norwalk is the only municipality that he knows of that does this, that it was causing problems with the computer operating system at the transfer station as software was being forced to do something it is not designed to do. Board of Estimate and Taxation member Anne Yang-Dwyer has also been pushing to raise fees so that the people who uses services pay for services instead of everyone paying for them through taxes.
That proposal was also tabled.
Alvord said the bulky waste pickup would be delayed far more than a month. The request for bids must go through the purchasing department and follow strict regulations, he said. Then there will be pre-bid meetings and time for bids to come in. A new offer probably won’t be delivered to the committee until September, he said.
“The unfair part now is everybody out there knows what City Carting’s bid is going to be,” he said.
Another issue was that only Fourth Taxing District residents would be eligible for the pickups. Councilman Jerry Petrini (R-District D) asked Alvord if he could get a price that would include all residents, even though it would “cost a heck of a lot more.”
“By code, sanitation can only be provided to Fourth District,” Alvord said.
The solution to that would be to write a new ordinance, which council members agreed would open up a can of worms and be another lengthy process.
Councilman David Watts (D-District A) said the public doesn’t approve of these “no-bid” issues, referring to a recent vote to allow City Carting to purchase and install new trash compactors at the transfer station. Kimmel and Committee Chairman David McCarthy (R-District E) said they agreed in general, but not on the specifics of the trash compactor issue.
Alvord asserted the honesty of his proposal at the end of the meeting, in response to Watts.
“When I believe that my knowledge or the knowledge of my staff and the experience of my staff suggests that we can negotiate the better price for a piece of work than if we put it out to competitive bid, then that’s way we’re going to go and we’re going to bring you that proposal,” Alvord said. “If you don’t like it, you don’t like the contractor or you think we’re in bed with somebody, tell us to go out to competitive bid. What I’m telling you is I’m not going to bring you something that I think is more expensive than if I had done it a different way. So I brought you this thing on bulky waste because we do it by daily pickup routes of garbage. There’s only one company that knows those daily routes and are going to use the same drivers to do that work to do the bulky waste pickup.”
“I’m not going to go that far to say you are in bed with somebody, Watts replied. “That would be a personal attack and that’s not why we’re here. I think that what people expect that when vendors do business with the city the process is open and transparent and everyone expects that when people do business with the city it has been put out to bid. And once it’s put out to bid it’s the best deal for the city. If you go to the people too many times saying that ‘it’s just easier,’ or ‘I’m using my judgment,’ that ‘I can continue to use the same vendors over and over again because it’s going to give me the best deal,’ or ‘the city doesn’t have the capability’ – You know what? How about we do this. Let’s just in the future say that Hal you’re a good man and you’re a professional and I don’t want to accuse you of anything. I just think that the people expect that you do business in an open and transparent way. Not to say you don’t do something in an open and transparent way, that’s just the expectation.”