The Ottumwa City Council faces a difficult decision when it comes to the future of the city's curbside trash, recycling and yard waste collection services.
After a motion to award a 10-year contract to an out of area company to take over providing the services failed, it's unclear where the future stands. The council is expected to provide further direction tonight to the city manager, but no formal action is listed on the agenda.
Services are currently performed by local company Bridge City Sanitation. In response to issues, however, city officials opted to request proposals from Bridge City and other companies for the next 10-year contract.
Urbandale-based Sparta Waste Services has submitted a bid that would be $150,000 cheaper. They also scored higher in the city's evaluation matrix.
While one is a bit cheaper than the other, either way, this is an expenditure of roughly $19 million. At this point, the cost does not need to be a primary factor in deciding which company to select.
At a public hearing last week, complaints about the current service were shared. But others spoke that they've had no issues with Bridge City.
Local businesses are vital to the local economy. By all means, we all should strive to use local businesses whenever possible.
But, there is a line. A local business can not be excused from providing quality service. It's one thing to spend slightly more with a local company than one from afar, but there can be no concessions made in terms of quality. Ottumwans pay for these services, and they must be provided and provided well.
It seems clear there have been issues over the last few years, and those need to be addressed promptly. What's unclear, though, is what kinds of opportunity Bridge City has had to correct those before this RFP came to be.
The council's decision is to determine whether Bridge City currently, or will, meet those standards. On the flip side, what guarantees are in place that Sparta would provide the service Ottumwans desire?
It sounds like Bridge City has committed to making investments to solve problems, as well as upgrading its fleet and technology to help with that.
Bridge City has promised to be accountable and transparent if given a contract for the next 10 years. These kinds of measures should be implemented regardless of who wins this contract.
There's no question, improvement must be made in terms of customer service, consistency and quality.
However, a change in providers may not be required to make these improvements happen. If it's deemed Ottumwa's city leaders of yesterday didn't provide Bridge City enough opportunity, it may be that a second chance is warranted here. It may also be Bridge City is out of chances.
We don't have enough information to offer firm guidance as to which contract the council should select. But here's what the council must do: listen to the people, listen to the officials it has hired to carry out city business, and ultimately it must select the company best suited to provide Ottumwa the service it must have.