North Miami Beach council members voted 4-3 against privatizing the sanitation department early Wednesday morning.
The city manager said residents could get the same level of service at a lower cost from a private company, and that the city’s sanitation workers could be reassigned to other city jobs or go to work for the contractor. And the city’s finance department said privatization was critical to offset a projected $3 million dollar shortfall in next year’s budget.
But some council members were skeptical of their professional staff’s numbers, or wanted the city to seek new offers from trash contractors in hopes of getting a better deal.
The proposed deal with Waste Pro, a sanitation and recycling industry giant, had been in the works for two years, and was vetted by three city managers and a $50,000 report from a consultant.
“I would never recommend anything that would reduce services,” City Manager Ana Garcia told the City Council at Tuesday night’s council meeting, which ran until after midnight.
Garcia also assured the council the projected savings of $2 million dollars per year could dramatically help the city as it faces financial uncertainty.
Vice-Mayor Frantz Pierre, council members Anthony DeFillipo, Phyllis Smith and Beth Spiegel voted against privatization.
Smith said the staff should not rely on proposals gathered from contractors nearly two years ago.
“You mean none of my staff, including my city manager didn’t feel that maybe, 21 months was too long, ... that maybe we should rebid?” asked Smith.
Spiegel said she doubts the city would save the $2 million promised by staff.
“What I haven’t heard is how the numbers that I have received reflect a reduction of what we would charge our residents if we outsourced. So the $2 million dollar in savings isn’t really there,” said Spiegel.
DeFillipo said he accepts that outsourcing sanitation would save money, but he insisted the city renegotiate with the sanitation workers’ union for more concessions.
“Coming from a family that was in the sanitation business, I know these dumping sites are getting full and so the rates will only get higher. With concessions from our union employees, there are opportunities we have not seized, ” said DeFillipo.
Mayor George Vallejo and councilwomen Barbara Kramer and Marlen Martell voted to approve the resolution. They said it was irresponsible to ask for more studies, and that they were shocked that their colleagues were questioning the numbers provided by the professionals in the finance department.
“We found an area where we can maximize our revenues but now you’re saying no?” Martell asked his colleagues. “Let’s kick the can further down the road. Let’s leave our [community] centers without bathrooms, air conditioning, and so forth. That’s what you’re saying.”
After the meeting, Garcia said there will be “a lot of difficult decisions” when she presents a balanced budget next month. Vallejo said it was a “lost golden opportunity” to deliver the same level of sanitation service at a lower cost.
“Obviously four of the seven councilpersons did not see it that way. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make them drink,” Vallejo said.
In other action, the City Council:
Earlier in the day, about a dozen members of the Save the Greynolds Park Committee staged a protest in front of City Hall to call attention to a proposed 10-story high-rise development project near the park.
“This is my peaceful place, and there are only a few places left like this one in Miami-Dade County,” said 23-year-old Ruben Cordoba. “The pollution and traffic this will bring will be awful.”
Follow reporter Patricia Sagastume on Twitter at @patsagastume.