Newport Moves Toward Privatizing City Trash Collection

As part of efforts to cut costs, Newport Beach took a step Tuesday toward privatizing its residential trash collection.

While praising the two dozen city workers who provide the service, City Council members approved negotiations with HF&H Consultants on a contract to develop a request for bids from private companies.

“We are really commanded at this point to go forward with a complete, thorough analysis of this,” said Councilman Michael Henn. “The only way to know is to get the information.”

The decision came on a 5-1 vote, with Councilman Rush Hill opposing and Councilman Steve Rosansky absent.

City staff cited a potential one-time cash infusion of $5 million from the sale of equipment and elimination of a reserve fund, with yearly savings of up to $1.7 million.

Amid the discussion, the trash collectors’ labor representative asked city leaders to give workers a chance to find new efficiencies internally.

“We are still collecting trash the same way we have for the last 25 years,” said Jamie Newton of the Orange County Employees Association. The workers “would like to be part of that process, wherein we look to improve our own department for efficiency and opportunity first before contracting out.”

Council members, while still moving forward with the bidding plans, asked that the collectors suggest ways to make their program more efficient.

The city serves about 26,500 residences each week, at an annual cost of $4.9 million for operations and $5.6 million for overhead, according to city staff. Savings estimates were based on the per-house rate in Newport Coast and other areas.

Jim Fitzpatrick, an elected director at the neighboring Costa Mesa Sanitary District, encouraged Newport to look at private bids. Fitzpatrick has been battling against the majority on his sanitary district board to have their multimillion-dollar trash contract bid out. That contract, currently held by CR&R, hasn’t been bid since World War II.

Fitzpatrick cautioned Newport Beach officials, however, that price comparisons can be extremely complex in the trash business.

“You are getting such a small piece of this pie delivered to you today,” said Fitzpatrick, noting that cities have different trash service levels.

In addition to the outsourcing issue, the discussion led to debate over other aspects of city trash collection, including how to handle automated trash pickup in small alleys, transitioning to alternative fuel vehicles, whether to have separate bins for recycling and green waste, the city’s prohibition on attached lids for trash bins and the fate of a trash-related corporate yard.

Municipal operations director Mark Harmon suggested that the City Council hold a study session with the consultants to discuss which services should be included in the bidding request.

City Council members also recognized the bonds that Newport’s trash collectors have with residents.

“They are legion,” said Mayor Pro Tem Keith Curry, who said he would try to ensure the workers have job offers if the city does outsource.

Additionally, council members moved forward with plans to replace the seawall at Balboa Island, given cracks and corrosion in the wall and an expected rise in sea level. Voting unanimously, the council approved a contract with a consultant to gather public comment and design a new barrier.

Tuesday also served as a historical milestone, the last regular council meeting at Newport’s longtime Civic Center on the Balboa Peninsula.

The council’s next regular meeting is scheduled for Dec. 11 at the new, $130-million Civic Center beside the main Newport Beach Public Library. City Hall is expected to move to its new offices during the first months of 2013.

— NICK GERDA

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