SEBRING — Waste Connections officials asked for and got a workshop Tuesday with Highlands County commissioners to discuss their contract.
County commissioners told staff to meet with the company officials about possible contract modifications for discussion at the June 2 meeting, in two weeks.
Commissioners hope to gather public input on possible amendments, make adjustments, and make a decision as early as June 16.
Kurt Salac, director of Municipal Business Development and Governmental Affairs for Waste Connections in Florida, called the current contract, including collecting recyclables in a dead market, “unsustainable.”
Salac also said a 70% drop in the market for recyclable material, high standards for zero load contamination, 30-40% contamination rate for local recycling loads and 20% rate increases for trucking and processing have all but eliminated the company’s bottom line.
He said the company expected to spend $1 million on a hauling facility at the Highlands County landfill and $500,000 on a recycling facility, but the recycling building cost $1.3 million and the hauling facility is no longer feasible — even though the contract demands it.
In a presentation, County Engineer Clinton Howerton Jr. said Waste Connections wants the county to remove the hauling facility requirement, let the company apply the Gulf Coast consumer price index to fuel, plus increase residential rates by 17% and commercial by 7%.
County Commissioner Don Elwell said he’s received hundreds of complaints from residents via social media about failures in both collection and customer service.
Given the rate increase approximately four years ago to $173 — the county ordinance set the cap at $195 — he doesn’t think residents will go for another hike.
When he asked Salac what would happen if the county did nothing and told the company, “Have a nice day,” Salac said the company would also say, “Have a nice day,” and explore options to exit the contract.
“It’s not something we take lightly,” Salac said, adding that the company would provide a transition period. “Absolutely, we would not leave a bag of trash on the ground.”
According to Howerton, if the county re-bids the contract, the rates will go higher, based on rates neighboring counties have received for service.
Commissioners asked Howerton if they could do away with recycling. He said that would make Highlands the first county in Florida to refuse the state recycling mandate.
They asked if the county could go back to placing large recycling bins around the county. Howerton said those loads were always contaminated.
“The bins are seen as Dumpsters and are used as Dumpsters,” Howerton said.