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St. Clair Shores extends contracts for trash, landscape services and more

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published February 23, 2021

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — City Council voted to extend contracts with several large companies, stating that the terms being offered were likely better than any they would receive through the bidding process.

The largest of the contracts was that of Green for Life, the city’s solid waste hauler since 2016. The company, which took over the contract that had been awarded in 2013 to Rizzo Environmental Services, proposed extending its contract at the current price for an additional five years, while also providing additional services to the city. Whereas under the current contract, St. Clair Shores pays $28,000 for one household hazardous waste collection day, it would receive two of those collection days at no cost, and extend the large brush pickup and chipping service year-round.

St. Clair Shores currently pays GFL $3,173,920 annually for trash and recycling services.

City Councilman John Caron said he was in agreement with extending the contract without rebidding because “waste hauling is a logistically heavy industry.”

“Not many companies can do that, and not many companies have a scale that can service a large community like we are,” he said.

When St. Clair Shores moved to a new hauler from Waste Management in 2013, “we saw a big service improvement,” Caron recalled. And although there were some “hiccups at the beginning of COVID ... at some point, everything still got picked up that day.”

City Councilman Chris Vitale said the contract was a good deal eight years ago.

“To be delivering the same cost and carrying that forward, I was very surprised to get that offer because ... I expect more environmental costs, higher fuel costs, but you’re agreeing to it, so I don’t see how we say no to it,” he said.

The contract was extended by a vote of 6-1 Feb. 16, with Councilwoman Candice Rusie opposed.

“I just don’t vote for no bid,” she explained. “I prefer this to be bid out. Thank you for your customer service. I do appreciate that.”

In an interview Feb. 17, City Manager Matthew Coppler explained that there is a comfort level knowing the company can provide the service. Additionally, he said the bidding process could cause GFL and other companies to bid more conservatively in their own best interest to hedge against unknown future costs.

“There’s a potential for changes in the industry that could push prices upward for them, as well. Companies tend to bid very conservatively, which means higher prices passed on to us,” he said. “Do we want to risk going out to bid when we have something locked in?”

Landscape Services, Inc., asked the city to extend its current contracts for rodent control, maintenance of various parks and rights-of-way, irrigation system maintenance, and lawn restoration for a period of three years, keeping the same prices as the last contract, awarded in 2018.

So far this year, St. Clair Shores has paid LSI $746,386 for those services. It paid the company $916,182 for the work in 2020 and $1,065,209 in 2019. When the services were last bid in 2018, two companies bid on rodent control services, three bid on landscape maintenance, two bid on irrigation system maintenance and only one company bid on the lawn restoration program.

Coppler and members of City Council said they appreciate the quality of the service LSI provides the city.

In addition, Coppler said, when one considers potential increases in the minimum wage rate and fuel prices, the fact that the company was holding its prices steady for three years was a good deal for the city.

“Putting this out to bid was going to have, maybe, an adverse cost impact because everyone is guessing at the unknown,” he said. “I think that unknown versus having something known and being able to lock it for a period of three years in our budget was a positive.”

LSI was the low bidder in all areas of the contract the last time the projects went out to bid, he said.

“The amount of work that we are doing with them through this contract, there really are very few companies that are out there that have the scale, the number of people, the machines to do the amount of work that we are requesting,” he said.

In order to make the work more competitive, the city could break it up into smaller amounts of work to appeal to more companies, he said, but that could then drive up the cost of staff oversight and coordination and potentially lead to a poorer level of service.

Councilman Dave Rubello said he believed LSI was respected, dependable, had quality work and was always available.

“These guys have always upheld the standards and the quality of the city to me,” he said.

Vitale said that at one time in the past, the city did go with a lower bidder for maintenance of the rights-of-ways, but “that was a disaster.”

“Not everybody can take on these contracts,” he said.

But Caron said that, while he could agree with extending the contract for one year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he couldn’t agree with a three-year extension.

“I think we run a risk of perception that nobody else is ever going to want to bid because LSI is always going to get it,” he said. “When others feel like they’re wasting time” they don’t bother to submit a bid.

“This is four contracts. This isn’t just one contract,” Rusie agreed. “It’s a big amount of money.

“LSI has done a great job, but that’s not a reason not to bid this out.”

The extension for LSI was approved by a vote of 6-2, with Caron and Rusie opposed.

City Council also voted to award three water main projects to Fontana Construction of Shelby Township without putting the projects out to bid.

Coppler said looking at the pricing offered by Fontana Construction, as well as “their desire and ability to do the work sooner, rather than going through the bid process, instead of starting later in the year, it just made the most sense.”

Fontana Construction was the lowest bidder on water main projects in 2020. However, due to tightened time schedules, the city paid $100,000 extra to go with the second low bidder on two of the projects to get them completed. At the Feb. 16 City Council meeting, the Community Development Department requested to use the company on three 2021 water main projects, on Hanson Court, Grand Lake Street and Maplegrove Street. Along with using pipe bursting to replace the water mains, the company will be responsible for replacing lead service lines and moving water meter wells inside homes in the area.

“We want to start as soon as we can,” Caron said. “Well over 30 lead lines ... will get replaced on these three projects.”

Coppler said there had been positive feedback on the company from residents who had them in their homes, quality work and, “we believe the numbers they provided us were better than what we were going to get.” Also, he said, since some of the work the company was being hired for had to be done before a summer road project, the city was confident in the contractor’s ability to deliver on the promised timeline.

Using the prices from the bids previously awarded to Fontana, the projects will cost approximately $842,000 on each of the streets and $703,000 for the court.

“I agree that bidding is the right way to go for things, but there are times when you have a really good offer that you know you’re not going to be able to replicate in the competitive bid process,” Coppler said.

He added, however, that extending contracts without competitive bidding will not be a commonplace practice for the city.

“There were some other services that wanted to do similar type things and we looked at them and we know there’s more competition,” he said. “What we were being offered were not good deals.

“I think what I heard from practically everybody on council is that these are different times right now. Locking certain large contracts in at no increase (can be a good deal). The landscape is going to be different in 3-5 years, and we need to be flexible to bid that out. This is not a trend.”

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