- Wayne Washington Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Palm Beach County commissioners voted Wednesday to delay the awarding of garbage hauling contracts so new programs can be established to give minority- and women-owned firms a better chance of winning bids from the Solid Waste Authority.
That means property owners in the unincorporated areas of the county likely will see an increase in their county garbage pickup rates come October, depending on how much money from its reserves the authority decides to use to extend its current hauling contracts.
The SWA had initially planned to award hauling contracts in February worth as much as $450 million. On Wednesday, the four haulers who currently service the county agreed to extend their contracts for a year — in exchange for about $7.5 million more in fees from taxpayers.
The county expects to cover some of those costs by dipping into the SWA’s reserves, which the authority has already tapped to help pay for cleanup after Hurricane Irma.
Without using money from reserves:
The increases would take effect in October, at the start of the next fiscal year.
SWA officials say they expect to use enough reserves to cut those increases in half. Commissioners are expected to make a final decision on the rates in June.
Bids for the new hauling contracts will be due in September with SWA making contract awards in February.
County Mayor Melissa McKinlay and Commissioner Steven Abrams objected to the additional hauling fees, but, with SWA officials saying a fee increase was likely anyway next year when the new hauling contracts were to take effect, the board voted for the extension and the accompanying fee increases.
“I’m just sad that we just passed on a significant rate increase to our taxpayers,” a glum McKinlay said. “Happy holidays.”
Commissioner Mack Bernard had pushed hard for a delay of the new hauling contracts after a study showed firms owned by minorities and women got far fewer contracts in recent years than their presence in the marketplace suggested they should have received.
The circumstances surrounding that study had angered Bernard, who accused SWA leadership of impeding the study and dragging its feet on the implementation of its recommendations.
He blasted the authority for failing to provide women and minority business owners with opportunities to win contracts. SWA officials acknowledged the study’s report of disparities but said they were not the result of discrimination.
Wednesday was the second straight day commissioners got an overview from a report detailing widespread disparities in contracting opportunities afforded to firms owned by white men and those owned by women and minorities.
Both studies were conducted by Mason Tillman Associates of California, which was paid $361,000 to conduct the SWA study and $750,000 for the county-wide study.
Like the SWA study, the county-wide study could serve as a prelude to the creation of programs — frequently referred to as women/minority business enterprise programs — aimed at addressing disparities in contracting.
Haulers told SWA officials they’d need at least six months after the establishment of a women- and minority-owned business enterprise program to determine if they could comply with it. With that feedback, SWA officials determined they’d need to delay the awarding of new hauling contracts if the county wanted haulers to adhere to the requirements of a new or re-established program.
SWA had a women and minority-owned businesses program for 20 years before scrapping it in 2012 in favor of one favoring small businesses.
On Tuesday and again Wednesday, black business owners told commissioners that they have not had a fair chance to win county contracts.
“It’s about time that the board take a proactive approach to address this disparity,” said Tinu Pena, president of an engineering and project management consulting firm that was unsuccessful in winning a county bid.
Pena, who serves on a SWA citizens advisory board, said a county manager told her: “Just because I like you and know who you are doesn’t mean I give you a project.”
“I took that as an insult,” Pena said.
As she had on Tuesday, Michelle Anaya DePotter, chief executive officer of the Associated General Contractors of America’s Florida East Coast chapter, questioned the validity of Mason Tillman’s report, pointing to an analysis AGC paid for that said the study was too flawed for its recommendations to meet legal muster.
McKinlay also raised questions about Mason Tillman’s work, saying she was frustrated it merely pointed out problems without detailing why those problems exist. She later said she came to realize that Mason Tillman was paid to determine if there there are disparities, not why there might be disparities.
She ultimately made the motion to accept the SWA study and direct county staff to look into both race- and gender-based programs and race- and gender-neutral programs as possible solutions to the agency’s disparities in contracting.
That motion passed unanimously.
“I’m really proud of the commission,” Bernard said, adding that he understood the later vote to delay the hauling contracts “came at a price.”