Garbage has been a particularly contentious issue in Greensboro since before the City Council voted to close the White Street Landfill in 2001.

The landfill was closed to garbage in 2007 at a cost to the city estimated to be as little as $3 million a year or as much as $14 million a year.

In 2009, there was an attempt to start using the White Street Landfill for Greensboro’s garbage disposal, and after a flurry of lawsuits, with councilmembers being recused and then un-recused, the effort was finally abandoned.

The city’s garbage is currently hauled by city garbage trucks to the city transfer station on Swing Road. Councilmember Mike Barber noted that Greensboro’s transfer station is widely known as “The Taj Ma Transfer.” It is reportedly the fanciest garbage transfer station in the state and maybe in the country. It cost $8 million to build.

The garbage is loaded into trucks at the transfer station and hauled to the Uwharrie Landfill near Troy, a trip of about 70 miles.

So it was unusual when the garbage hauling contract came before the Greensboro City Council and was passed by a 7-to-2 vote after a relatively short and painless discussion, despite the fact that the City Council voted to award the contract to a new hauler, Custom Ecology Inc. (CEI). Councilmembers Tony Wilkins and Yvonne Johnson voted against the contract.

Hillco Transport Inc., a Greensboro-based company, has had the contract to transport the garbage to the landfill for the past 10 years and by all accounts has done a good job, provided good service, has a good safety record and, in 10 years, has had relatively few complaints.

Field Operations Director Dale Wyrick told the City Council that in 10 years, garbage has been left on the floor of the transfer station overnight only once and that was because of a strange snowstorm. The snowstorm was unusual in that it closed the Uwharrie Landfill about 70 miles south, but didn’t hit Greensboro. The result was that Greensboro garbage trucks operated on a normal schedule but the Uwharrie Landfill was closed, so there was no place to take the garbage.

Despite the fact that the city has been pleased with Hilco’s service, staff recommended awarding the contract to CEI because CEI had the lowest bid by about $270,000 a year on the three-year contract.

There was some concern raised because initially Hilco had the lower per mile bid but CEI had the lower per trip bid.

As Wyrick said, the city realized that they were comparing apples and oranges because Hillco and CEI chose different routes to the landfills, and in this case there are two landfills making it more complicated.

Randolph County is expected to open a new landfill in January and it is about 30 miles closer to the Greensboro transfer station than Uwharrie. The city already has a contract to start using the Randolph County landfill when it opens. So the companies had to bid on both transporting the garbage to the Uwharrie Landfill and to Randolph.

In the initial bid the companies were allowed to choose the routes to the landfills, which resulted in the situation where Hilco had the lower per mile rate but CEI had the lower per trip rate because the two companies chose different routes. After the bids were opened and the companies had seen the each other’s bids, the city elected to rebid the contract with specific routes to each landfill.

CEI lowered their rate by about 12 percent on the second go round and Hilco did not.

Perhaps the most telling remark of the evening was by Hilco President Gurney Long, who said, “Maybe I was outsmarted a little bit.”

Wilkins said that the rating sheet provided by the city staff looked like a brochure for Hilco. CEI has had some safety problems and Hilco has not. Hilco has also taken over three transfer stations that CEI had under contract before the contract expired. But representatives of CEI said they had spent millions of dollars on new safety equipment and training and had new management.

And $270,000 a year is a lot of money to leave on the table.

CEI also made certain that they would get the vote of Councilmember Sharon Hightower by having their minority subcontractors at the meeting. Hightower seems to have no interest in price or performance, but she is interested in minority contractors.

The City Council also approved a $1.7 million contract with Yates Construction to construct 0.4 miles of the Downtown Greenway. Yates was the only bidder on the contract.

Wilkins asked why the city didn’t have more bidders on construction projects and on this project in particular, and Assistant City Manager David Parrish said, “I can’t speak to why someone did or didn’t bid on this contract.”

Wilkins asked for the names of four or five companies that would be likely to bid on this type of contract and said he planned to call them and find out why they weren’t bidding on city contracts. Parrish offered to get the information, but Wilkins said he wanted to talk to them himself. Mayor Nancy Vaughan suggested they send a survey to contractors to get information, but Wilkins said he was going to call. He said, “There is a reason why they aren’t bidding on our contracts and I’m going to find out what it is.”

Spending $1.7 million to construct 0.4 of a mile of a 12-foot sidewalk seems high, but Greensboro Department of Transportation Director Adam Fischer said before the meeting that the cost was a little higher than the city’s estimate but was in line with the estimated cost of the Greenway, which is a little more than 4 miles around the downtown area at a total cost of $28 million. The city is paying $20 million of that cost and $8 million is being raised privately.

Along with the high cost, the second question for the Greenway is why is it taking so long. The planning for the Greenway started in 2001 and less than a mile of the Greenway has been completed.

At the beginning of the meeting, Vaughan presented Finance Director Rick Lusk with a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting.   Lusk said that the Greensboro finance department was the first in the state to receive this award 41 years ago, and that the city finance department had won it every year since. Lusk introduced his staff, gave them credit for the award, and he predicted that next year the city would receive the award for the 42nd year in a row.

Vaughan also recognized City Clerk Betsey Richardson for being named the North Carolina Clerk of the Year at the NC Association of Municipal Clerks’ annual meeting in August. Vaughan said it was richly deserved.

You do have to wonder who takes the minutes at a meeting of city clerks.