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Dust to ashes?
Harrisburg to seek bids to privatize
sanitation and trash collection:
Public Works Building to be razed for ash burial
City receiver eyes selling Public Works Building
and grounds adjacent to Harrisburg's incinerator
to Lancaster Authority with the incinerator, to bury ash
Lancaster Authority: We are acquiring that Public Works Building, which will be razed and we'll dispose of ash there
Deal includes: contracts with Dauphin County and Harrisburg for waste disposal; 20-year deal with the Department of General Services which will buy the electric output; it also includes 'getting that
Public Works Building site for ash disposal'
'An unseen part of the plan is driven by a perceived need to help
shoe-horn the pending deal with the Lancaster Authority,
whose bid to buy the troubled Harrisburg incinerator has run
into increasing political and financial turmoil'
The Corbett administration, the City of Harrisburg, and the Corbett-appointed city receiver are set to announce plans seeking bids to privatize large parts of the beleaguered capital city's Public Works Department, including its unionized sanitation and trash collection operations.
The plan is part of a larger, secretive, and growing deal to sell the city incinerator to the Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority (LCSWMA).
Under the Corbett administration-approved plan, the resulting unneeded headquarters for the city sanitation department, located in the Public Works Building, directly next to the city incinerator, off South Cameron Street in Harrisburg, will be part of the proposed sale to the Lancaster Authority.
The Public Works Building will be demolished, allowing the parcel of real estate to be used to bury waste ash from the incinerator.
A manager at the Lancaster Authority says, "we are acquiring that public works building, which will be razed and we'll dispose of ash there."
The plan is part of a sweetened deal to make the sale of the incinerator more profitable for the Lancaster Authority, which foresees a need in the future to bury incinerator ash.
The terms of the deal are becoming clearer. The Lancaster Authority is willing to buy the incinerator and pay what Harrisburg "needs" to get for it if the deal works for LCSWMA over the long-term. That includes the contracts with Dauphin County and Harrisburg for waste disposal; it includes the 20-year deal with the Department of General Services which will buy the electrical output from the co-gen incinerator; and it also "includes getting that site for ash disposal."
Harrisburg Authority Chairman Bill Cluck, in a short message, says that the public works building and lot, planned for demolition, still has to be approved for ash disposal by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
The proposal to lay off the city's unionized trash collectors and replace them with private contractors was buried deep in the receiver's February 2012 plan. But there was supposed to be good-faith negotions with current employees and bargaining units about this, according to the plan.
And, in the receiver's plan, the proposal to seek bids for private trash collection in Harrisburg was floated for supposed internal budgetary reasons.
Page 110 of the receiver's plan reads:
"If these savings and efficiencies cannot be realized through negotiation with existing employees, or if THA (The Harrisburg Authority) is unable to secure the necessary financing for this new system, the City and THA shall investigate contracting out for residential collection services to ensure a reasonable cost per collection. Given the urgency of the situation, the City should concurrently conduct negotiations with the bargaining unit and prepare for receiving competitive bids for service, effectively creating a managed competition to determine the most economical method of providing service. Any consideration of contracting for residential collection should include bulk waste (collection) as part of the same effort.
"Many communities contract for all solid waste collection services," the receiver's plan reads. "Private services are readily available and often offer a more economical service than that provided by city crews. In order to achieve savings through modernization and upgrading of equipment, there needs to be agreement between management and the bargaining unit on performance and productivity standards and work rules that will lead to the provision of competitive service by existing city crews."
In reality, the plan is not so much about saving money in the sanitation department.
An unseen part of the receiver's plan instead is driven by a perceived need to help shoe-horn the pending deal with the Lancaster Authority, whose bid to buy the troubled Harrisburg incinerator has run into increasing political and financial trouble.
The Corbett Administration has recently run aground with equally secretive plans to privatize the Pennsylvania Lottery, the liquor store system, and the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare.
In each case, critics have said that the politically clumsy Corbett administration has undisclosed and/or ulterior motives for its drive to privatize public services. This seems to be another instance.
One obvious ramification to this latest plan is that the cost to Harrisburg city residents for trash collection may skyrocket at a time when Harrisburg Mayor Linda Thompson is seeking re-election.
In the near term, the thinking goes, Lancaster County residents should benefit from the land deal -- at the expense of Harrisburg citizens.
Policy critics of the jinxed Harrisburg incinerator have long proposed creating a regional trash disposal authority, which would not pit residents of Dauphin, Lancaster, and York counties against each other, and which would create more financial stability.
Critics have also decried decades of secretive backroom deals involving the hidden finances of the Harrisburg incinerator, and blame lack of public participation and political involvement as a main reason for the plant's monumental and ongoing failure.
This unfolding new plan, unfortunately, seems only to offer more of the same.
Harrisburg City Controller Dan Miller, himself a candidate for mayor, said, "I did hear about a week ago that there were plans to privatize sanitation, but that's all I know." Controller Miller points out that Harrisburg "is getting about $1.5 million from the state a year for trash collection. I don't know how that will be affected by all this."
A Request for Proposals, or RFP, to privatize Harrisburg city trash collection should appear in the near future on the City of Harrisburg's website.
UPDATE: On March 27, 2013, the City of Harrisburg placed this notice on its website:
Request for Proposals: Solid Waste & Recycling Collection & Disposal Services
REQUEST FOR PROPOSALS The City of Harrisburg will accept sealed proposals for: Requests for Proposal #11-2012 –Solid Waste and Recycling Collection and Disposal Services. Proposals must be received by the City of Harrisburg, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. City Government Center, Office of Purchasing, 10 North Second Street, Suite 302A, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, [...]
-- Bill Keisling
posted March 17, 2013, updated to include city RFP on March 27, 2013
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