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Outsourcing garbage collection up for vote - Toronto Star

May 16, 2011
Paul Moloney      
Urban Affairs Reporter
Toronto Star

As Toronto city council prepares to vote on whether to contract out garbage pickup west of Yonge St., major questions remain.

Among the questions:

Should council approve the final contract or leave it up to staff; should a company that has hired a senior Toronto solid waste official be barred from bidding; should the union representing current garbage workers submit a bid.

It’s just too big a contract to leave it up to staff to make the award, said Franz Hartmann, executive director of the Toronto Environmental Alliance, which is urging caution.

The city is proposing to hand out a seven-year deal, with a possible two-year extension, to collect residential curbside garbage from 165,000 homes between Yonge St. and the Humber River and from Lake Ontario to Steeles Ave.

It costs the city about $30.7 million a year to service the area’s homes, but the city believes it could save $6 million annually by contracting out the work to a private sector waste company.

The administration of Mayor Rob Ford, who campaigned on contracting out garbage pickup, proposes to have staff award the final contract rather than send it back to council for final signoff.

“Typically, a normal procurement process wouldn’t end up going back to council,” said Peter Hargreave, policy director with the Ontario Waste Management Association.

“That’s a way of keeping the politics out,” said Hargreave, whose association representing private waste companies is urging Toronto councillors to contract out the work.

“You tend to run into trouble when you add politics into the procurement process.”

The environmental alliance, meanwhile, is urging Toronto councillors to retain final approval of the contract and not hand that authority to staff.

“The whole point of government is to make sure decisions in the interests of Torontonians get made,” Hartmann said. “That’s why we elected them.”

The union representing garbage workers says a transparent bid process requires council to examine and vote on the final contract hammered out between the city and the winning bidder.

“I do have some confidence that there are a significant number of councillors concerned about the transparency of the bid,” said Mark Ferguson, president of Local 416 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

“The concern by many councillors I’ve been speaking with is that this process needs to be open, transparent and have verifiable numbers that allows comparisons to be made,” Ferguson said.

The decision by one private company to hire Geoff Rathbone, Toronto’s general manager of solid waste, has raised eyebrows, said Councillor Josh Matlow.

“I’ve heard from a number of residents, who describe themselves as right wing and pro-privatization, who have expressed concerns that a company could win the bid who has recently hired a member of our staff,” Matlow said.

The waste management association says Rathbone’s new employer, Progressive Waste Solutions, formerly BFI Canada Inc., is one of the potential bidders.

Others include Waste Management Inc.; Miller Waste Systems; Turtle Island and National Waste Services.

Rathbone’s departure is a complication, says the environmental alliance, but it won’t go so far as to say any bid from that company should be disqualified.

Councillor John Parker, who intends to vote in favour of contracting out, said he’s not concerned about Rathbone’s move.

“His particular value to his employer comes in the area of waste management, not so much collections,” Parker said. “I personally don’t see that as an issue that needs to concern us.”

While the private companies and others say the unionized workers should submit a bid, a better course would be for the city to talk to the workers about cost savings, said Hartmann, of the environmental alliance.

An in-house bid would require the city to work with the union and supply information needed to make a bid, Hartmann said.

“The city owns the trucks, the city owns the facilities, the city manages the workers. I don’t think the union can do this on its own.”

As originally published here: http://www.thestar.com/mobile/NEWS/article/992181

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