Fort Wayne mayor, City Council working to change bidding process in light of Red River issues

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — In January 2018, Red River began collecting trash in Fort Wayne after submitting the lowest bid of several waste hauling companies. But after years of missed pickups, Mayor Tom Henry and Fort Wayne City Council have agreed to work together to change the bidding process.

A resolution is scheduled to be introduced at City Council on Tuesday, Jan. 11. The resolution requests that the Indiana General Assembly change state law to allow municipalities to use a request for proposals process for solid waste and recycling services.

Currently, Indiana Code 36-9-30 requires such contracts to be awarded to the lowest responsible and responsive bidder. The City believes it could better serve its residents if it could use the requests for proposal (RFP) bid process to award solid waste and recycling collection and disposal services instead of a lowest bid process.

“The request for proposal process allows us to work with companies to find out maybe there’s outside the box thinking that we just haven’t considered, that our specifications don’t address,” said Stephanie Crandall, Director of Intergovernmental Affairs for the city. “Then, companies can offer up those solutions. And we can hopefully get a better product and service provided to our residents.”

The resolution formally requests that the state legislators who represent Fort Wayne residents to introduce and support legislation to authorize local governments to enter into contracts for solid waste and recycling collection services through an RFP process.

WANE 15 has reached out to Mayor Henry’s administration for further explanation.

The Request For Proposal process is currently only used in Indianapolis, but the bill, being authored by State Representative Martin Carbaugh (R-Fort Wayne), would implement it in all of the state’s cities and towns. It would still allow the local governments to choose the lowest bidder if they want, but it does not force them to go that route.

“We want to take low-cost options for being good stewards of taxpayer dollars but obviously, we want to have good service as well,” Carbaugh said. “When you take a look at what’s happened here over the last, well, really since current provider took over, we’ve had hiccups along the way, including this week for me personally.”

This is the second time Carbaugh has proposed a bill like this. The first, brought to the general assembly in 2014, passed through the State House but died in the State Senate. Carbaugh and his co-sponsor, House Minority Leader Phil GiaQuinta (D-Fort Wayne) are optimistic it will do better this time around.

“I think we have some real-world examples here in Fort Wayne about why this process seems to make sense,” Carbaugh said. “It’s something that Indianapolis uses, there’d be no reason in my mind why for when shouldn’t have that same option or communities around the state.”

According to GiaQuinta, the consistency of complaints rolling in against the waste service might help their case.

“Just because of the controversy uproar, if you will, the current state of the trash collection here in Fort Wayne, that it may have more of a likely chance to getting passed and getting through the Senate this time,” GiaQuinta said. “That may be the number one driver, to be honest.”

State Senator Liz Brown (R-Fort Wayne) was on city council when they last tried to change the law. While she plans on supporting the effort, she is not convinced that its passage would prevent a Red River repeat.

“What I think people need to understand is, if you really had followed through with the contract, it’s the lowest most responsive, and you do your due diligence, then the lowest bid can work,” said Brown. “That being said, they are asking the legislature to change it so they are allowed to go to an RFP process and I’m okay with that. As long as again, they are also very mindful of our dollars, because we’re the ones who ultimately pay for this right here in the city of Fort Wayne.”

However, time could prove to be an obstacle. The current legislative session is a shorter one, meaning the bill will have to pass the House and Senate by March 1 if they want it signed into law this year. The scope reaching beyond the boundaries of Fort Wayne adds additional risk to the effort.

“If there are some [cities] that would object to it, yeah, you could see problems,” said GiaQuinta. “Sometimes it is a little bit easier just to single out one city, but if you can also explain the benefits of doing something like this [to] other cities and towns, and now, in fact, they may be requesting this too.”

If the bill does not make it through this session, they will have to wait until 2023 to try again.

The city said Fort Wayne current garbage and recycling contracts would not be impacted.

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