When residents and media came to the July 8 meeting of the Forest Lake City Council to hear discussion on the trash hauling proposals up for discussion, they were doing so unequipped with the information they usually have when the city is considering a contractor.
At the meeting, city staff cited Minnesota State Statute 13.591, stating the proposals submitted by Republic Services, Wyoming-based SRC and Walters Recycling and Refuse were both protected information and not eligible for discussion in a closed meeting – in other words, the only way the information could be shared was by the staff and council discussing it at a public meeting. After a contract was approved, however – and it was, on July 17 – then all of the non-trade-secret information contained in the proposals would become public information.
After the council approved a 5 1/2 year contract with Republic (learn more in the July 18 story “Council inks trash contract with Republic” or online at tinyurl.com/y2mqmex3), The Forest Lake Times made a data practices request for all three proposals. In an attempt to compare the services and prices of each of the proposals, The Times read the proposals and produced a comparison spreadsheet to visualize some of the main differences.
In some ways, the differences between the companies make it hard to do an apples-and-oranges comparison. For example, the city’s request for proposals asked for prices for trash carts measuring 35, 65 and 95 gallons, but SRC’s standard cart sizes are 40, 65 and 96 gallons.
The cost aspect was also tricky because the services offered by the haulers beyond trash and recycling differed in cost and scope. While Republic was the clear low bidder on trash service, for example, it was the clear high bidder in yard waste. In 2020, according to the proposals, a Forest Lake Republic customer using the smallest size refuse container could expect to pay a combined $208.80 for trash and recycling collection (plus disposal fees) for the year, compared to $244.08 for an SRC customer and $246.60 for a Walters customer. However, if a customer bundles their trash collection with yard waste collection, the comparison shifts. Under that formula, Republic and SRC have roughly equal annual combined costs, thanks to SRC’s significantly lower yard waste costs. In this comparison, the total overall annual cost for a Republic customer is $312.61, compared to $314.08 for an SRC customer and $371.60 for a Walters customer.
A straight forward comparison also changes depending on the garbage needs of individual users. While the rates above were calculated for customers using one refuse container of the smallest size, if a customer with a large trash output wanted to use two of a service’s largest containers, the price shifts again, thanks to SRC’s significantly higher disposal fee costs for bigger containers and higher costs for second containers. In that scenario, a Republic customer would pay $457.33 annually for trash, recycling and yard waste service, while an SRC customer would pay $674.32 and a Walters customer would pay $586.40.
The differences were also elaborated in what kinds of services were on offer and different potential costs to be incurred. While Republic and Walters were willing to offer walk-up trash collection for an additional monthly cost, SRC declined to do so. SRC also declined to offer free trash collection at city parks and events, while Republic and Walters did offer the service – but Republic also added an additional charge for offering portable toilet services at those venues. While neither Republic nor Walters made a provision for charging residents a fuel surcharge, SRC did – provided the state gas tax rises above a certain level.
Beyond the service offerings, however, each company presented themselves in their proposals with a different set of intangibles. SRC’s proposal stressed consistency of service and the importance of maintaining ties to a longtime local business, including several letters of support from local residents. It also expressed an unwillingness to modify its current services, attaching the city’s request for proposals with multiple portions crossed out and replaced with added notation. For example, one portion about providing free trash and toilet services at city events and parks was struck through, replaced with a suggestion that the city pay for toilet services by adding a fee to residents’ water and sewer bills.
Walters, meanwhile, focused on customer service and technological advancements. Its proposal showed off an activity book the company uses to educate kids about proper recycling habits, and it included a free service for all customers in which Walters would use a proprietary technology to wash and de-odor all refuse containers midway through the length of the contract in order to reduce the amount of contaminated water flowing into the city’s storm sewer system.
Republic’s proposal stressed a full range of services and a national company large enough to handle all customer needs. Both the Republic and Walters proposals also were open to accepting more types of recyclable plastics than SRC does, a factor multiple council members cited as helpful in making their decision.
Republic will start trash and recycling service in Forest Lake the first full week of August. It is sending out an informational packet to Forest Lake customers, including information on how to exchange garbage containers for the preferred size (starting out, all customers will receive the 95-gallon container).