NORWALK, Conn. – Diane Lauricella let her opinion be known last week as Norwalk officials voted to move a controversial contract out of a Common Council committee and on to a final vote.
"Shame on you," she said.
The Public Works Committee had voted to move along the proposal to contract out the city's garbage pick-up to City Carting for 10 years, recommending it be accepted by the full Common Council Tuesday night and sent to the mayor for his signature.
Lauricella thinks council members should be ashamed for taking Department Public Works Director Hal Alvord's word without doing their own fact checking. Others have different issues with the proposal, including the speed with which the council is expected to vote on it.
"How come the savings are already included in the plans for this coming fiscal year?" asked Council Minority Leader Anna Duleep. "Something seems to have already been in the works. I've had a lot of constituents reaching out to me and expressing concern. I will tell you that gut reaction, I can't think of family members I would sign a 10-year contract with."
A six-person panel that included Common Councilman David McCarthy (R-District E) and Common Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-District D) considered the bids from Finocchio Brothers and City Carting for the right to pick up Norwalk's garbage. City Carting was selected because it offered single-stream recycling as part of the deal Alvord said. The company's two existing contracts with the city would be amended, lengthening the terms and altering the fees in a matter that Alvord said favors the city.
"I got a feeling that it was just the sheer economies of scale that City Carting had that allowed them to bid significantly lower than Finocchio," said Management and Budget Director Bob Barron, a member of the panel. "However, we got both bids – Finocchio I think was 50 percent higher than City Carting. We countered with the same counter proposal to both of them, to give them each an equal opportunity."
Mayor Richard Moccia will be authorized at Tuesday's meeting to execute the agreement with City Carting, according to Common Council Member Michael Geake (U-District B). "I'm betting 9 to 6," he said, adding that he was voting for it. All seven Republicans will probably vote for it, as will Kimmel, he said.
Kimmel said last week that he didn't think the books were cooked to favor City Carting. "I sat with both vendors and watched their reactions: one of them, especially Finnochio, would have noted it ... I didn't see it. I'm concluding that they thought the numbers were fair."
Geake thinks the process was fair even if City Carting had a slight advantage, in that it was already in Norwalk. He does think, "Fundamentally we were setting it up that it was going to be one company doing both" recycling and solid-waste pickup. "It does seem to be that way in that none of the other companies could have bid on the other two contracts without also winning the solid waste," he said. "I really don't like the two other contracts reopened without bids. I mean, I see the point to it. I'd have been happier if there were a mechanism where the other companies could have bid on those, too. But I'm not going to oppose it because of that."
If the agreement is authorized, City Carting will take over garbage collection on Oct. 1. The eight city employees currently doing the pickups will be reassigned to driving other city trucks and will take a $8,000 a year pay cut. They will receive $8,000 lump sum one-time payout, as compensation for their first year of reduced pay.
Alvord said none of the solid waste will go to City Carting's Meadow Street facility, but will instead continue to go to the city's transfer station, into city equipment. Single-stream recycling will begin July 1, 2013. This means that city residents will no longer be expected to separate types of recyclable materials, and will instead dump everything into one 64-gallon toter provided free-of-charge by City Carting, Alvord said.
Alvord misdirects the lay-people on the council, said Lauricella, who wishes council members would talk to officials in other cities about their experiences with how they handle their garbage pick-up and recycling contracts. "It's a serious, serious matter and it's not the first time he's done it," she said. "I believe these three contracts need to be sent back to committee. The council has duty to do their due diligence. They are elected, they swore. Everyone took an oath, the mayor took an oath."
Duleep said she is surprised the council is being asked to commit to a 10-year contract, but that many people are not surprised City Carting won the contract. She said, "I would like to have the time to really vet this and to look into some of the allegations that have been made, and I don't know if that will happen."