COVINGTON -- Commissioners were split 3 to 2 on the renewal of contracts for recycling center management and lawn maintenance Tuesday night.
Commissioners Lanier Sims and Nancy Schulz wanted to renew the current contracts for one year, while also putting out a Request for Proposals to give other contractors a chance to bid on providing the services next year.
But Commissioners John Douglas, J.C. Henderson and Levie Maddox instead voted for renewals without the RFPs.
Junior Hilliard General Services has held the contract to manage the county's 11 recycling centers for 18 years. The county has not obtained a price comparison from other providers since 2001.
The contract is based on an hourly staffing rate of $11.29 per hour, not to exceed a total of $412,331 annually.
During a work session prior to the regular meeting, Hilliard said his company provides good customer service, focusing on public relations and keeping good relationships with customers.
Douglas said he follows the, "If it's not broken, don't fix it" philosophy and asked Hilliard if, in his professional judgment, his operation is broken.
"I certainly don't think it's broken. We're out there seven days a week. I don't believe it's broken. If it is broken, I want to fix it," he responded.
"I understand that if it's not broken, don't fix it. I think one of the concerns I have had the last four years is that we don't really have a market analysis of what the costs would be," said Schulz. "We haven't put out for an RFP so we can see, in fairness to Mr. Hilliard, is he giving us the best market pricing. That would confirm the best market pricing, if we do an RFP."
Maddox asked if there were any documented problems with Hilliard's service. County Manager John Middleton said that any time there is a service contract there is conflict and issues but Hilliard has always been responsive to those.
"My concern is not the quality of work that you've done; you've proved your quality of work, that's no doubt," said Sims. "The concern that I have comes from the citizens of my district. It's not a Junior Hilliard Services concern. I think it's a county concern with professional services and how we handle contracts for professional services."
Sims went on to say that as a business owner, he may continue to hold onto good contractors, but "at the same time, that's my personal business. I'm not a C corporation. I don't have stockholders to answer to. Me being a commissioner, I have citizens; those are my stockholders and I do have to answer to them. Their concern is are we getting the best price or why are we not bidding out services? I went to bat and told everybody what good work you do, but that's not the issue. The issue is why are we not having a fair playing field, letting other contractors look at it?"
The renewal of the contract approved by the board in 2012 was apparently never signed by former Chairman Kathy Morgan, but the county is still operating under the five-year contract approved in 2011.
Schulz made the motion to renew the contract for one year and direct the county manager to issue an RFP no later than June 30. Sims gave the second. Then Douglas offered a substitute motion to offer a five-year contract, which died for lack of a second. Henderson then offered another substitute motion to have the county attorney update the current contract to a five-year term, with one-year optional renewable terms. The motion did not include the issuance of an RFP.
Henderson said he did not want the matter to come before the board as an agenda item each year, but for the county manager to notify commissioners when the contract is due to be renewed and if a majority want it on the agenda, it would be.
"Something of this magnitude, this size contract should be on the agenda so citizens know what we as a commission are doing," he said.
Henderson's motion passed 3 to 2 with Sims and Schulz opposing.
The county's lawn maintenance contract was last put out to bid in 2006. Durden's Lawn Maintenance has held the contract for 12 years. Though commissioners were considering a second annual renewal under a five-year contract, Douglas proposed starting over at year one with the five-year contract, noting that the current board cannot be bound by decisions of a previous board.
"I have been approached by other contractors who indicate they would like to be involved with request for proposals," said Schulz, before offering a substitute motion to renew the current contract for one year and direct the county manager to issue an RFP no later than June 30. Sims gave a second, but the motion failed. Douglas' motion passed 3 to 2, again with Sims and Schulz in opposition.
The annual cost of the lawn maintenance service is $98,463, not including quarterly fuel adjustments. Although Durden said at the meeting that his business license was up to date, Middleton advised him the business license office said it is not. According to the Department of Development Services, Durden's business license expired Dec. 31, 2012.
Henderson questioned why board members who opposed the vote were willing to renew other contracts without soliciting RFPs, such as the food services and healthcare contracts at the detention center, which were unanimously approved in January.
Schulz responded that she believed the BOC could only set the sheriff's budget, and could not dictate the providers he chose. But County Attorney Tommy Craig said the sheriff would not be exempt from any policy adopted by the board.
"Personally, I don't see any distinction between the NaphCare contract and the Castellana contract at the jail and what we're talking about here, so I'm troubled about consistency. What's good for one's good for all," Craig said, referring to the health care provider -- NaphCare -- and food service provider -- Frank Castellana -- at the detention center.
Craig said the board initially opted for five-year arrangements to try to lock in costs and save taxpayers money as well as assist providers who were having difficulty borrowing money from banks for capital expenses with only a one-year contract. The yearly renewals allow the board to get out of the contracts without penalty if it meets the notification stipulations of the contract. Craig said if the board is going to seek RFPs on professional services, it should be done countywide without exemptions.
Sims and Schulz agreed the board needs to reconsider the way it handles all professional service contracts, and both have said they'd like to address that at a planned retreat at the end of the month.
Craig said the county had problems with other service providers of health care and food service at the jail before NaphCare and Frank's Restaurant took over, and there were also problems at the recycling centers prior to Hilliard being awarded the contract. Similarly, Durden said the county went through three companies in four years before he was awarded the lawn maintenance contract.