The Newton County Board of Commissioners voted to approve two five-year contracts for lawn care and recycling services without seeking bids at their meeting Tuesday night. It was a decision that caused dissension between board members, something that has happened over the last few years.
The board voted 3 to 2 in favor of renewing contracts with Junior Hilliard General Services for $412,331 per year for recycling services; and Durden’s Lawn Maintenance for $98,463 for lawn care services.
Commissioners Lanier Sims and Nancy Schulz expressed that they wanted to renew the contracts for one year and put out a requests for bids to other contractors to get a price comparison on the services. However, commissioners John Douglas, J.C. Henderson and Levie Maddox voted in favor of extending the contracts without putting out a Request for Proposals.
The contract for Junior Hilliard General Services has been renewed consistently since 2001. Hilliard’s company has been contracted to operate the county’s 11 recycling centers for 18 years. Services under the contract are at a staffing rate of $11.29 per year, not to exceed a total of $412,331 per year.
The renewal of the five-year contract approved by the board in 2012 wasn’t signed by former chairman Kathy Morgan; however, the county continued to operate under the 2011 approved contract.
At the work session, Commissioner Douglas said he’s always operated under the “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” policy and asked Hilliard if he thought his operations needed to be fixed. Hilliard said in his professional opinion, he didn’t think his operations were broken.
“Well, I certainly don’t think it’s broken. We are out there seven days a week. I don’t think it’s broken. If it is broken, I want to fix it,” Hilliard said.
Schulz made the comment that she understood the “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” policy, but asked if there were other recycling vendors that could do the service. However, Hilliard said his services were unique and he wasn’t sure if there were other companies available that could do the service.
“One of the concerns that I have had over the last four years is that we don’t really have a market analysis of what the cost could be. We haven’t put it out for a RFP so we can see, in fairness to Mr. Hilliard, is he giving us the best market price?” Schulz said. “That would confirm if that’s the best market pricing if we issue an RFP.”
Maddox asked if there were any documented issues with the service contract. County Manager John Middleton said there have been some routine issues that have come up and from time to time they have received complaints; however, he said that Hilliard has always worked them out and came up with a solution to any of the problems.
Sims said his concern was not the quality of work that was done by Hilliard’s company, but with how the county handled its contracted services.
“The concern that I have comes from the citizens in my district. It’s not with Junior Hilliard’s services. I think it’s a county concern with professional services and how we handle contracts with professional services,” Sims said. “I echo with what Mr. Douglas said, ‘If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.’ You know that’s what I do in my personal business; like if I have a good contractor, I hold on to that contractor. 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. I do have to answer to them, and their concern is, are we getting the best price and 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 is the county not [having] a fair playing field.”
Schulz made a motion for the board to approve Hilliard’s contract for one year and issue a RFP’s for no later than June 30. The motion failed as it was voted on 2 to 3 with Schulz and Sims for the motion; and commissioners Douglas, Henderson and Maddox voting not to approve the motion.
A substitute motion was given by Commissioner Douglas to approve a five-year contract, which failed due to the lack of a second. Commissioner Henderson then made another substitute motion to have the county attorney update the current contract to a five-year contract, with one-year renewable options.
Henderson said he didn’t think the contract should come up to the board as an agenda item each year, and that the county manager should inform the commissioners when the contract was up for renewal and just sign the contract, if the majority of the commissioners agreed. Sims did not agree.
“We should be good stewards to the citizens and make sure that this is an open process,” Sims said.
The motion carried 3 to 2 with Schulz and Sims opposing.
Durden’s Lawn Maintenance
Durden’s Lawn Maintenance has been providing lawn care services to the county since 2006, which was the last time the contract was bid out. The annual cost of lawn service would not exceed $98,463, not including quarterly fuel adjustment costs. Though Durden said his business license was up to date, Middleton said the business license office informed him that it was expired.
A second year renewal was on the table for consideration; however, Douglas made a motion to start the contract over at year one because he didn’t think the new board should be obligated to decisions from the previous board.
Schulz said she has heard from other contractors who were interested in offering a bid for lawn services. She gave a substitute motion to renew the contract for one year and issue a RFP no later than June 30. Sims seconded that motion, but it failed. Douglas’ motion carried 3 to 2 with Sims and Schulz again in opposition.
Henderson made the comment that there were several contracts that get renewed in the county every year with no problem and asked why some of the board members always wanted to seek bids in regards to the lawn care and recycling center contracts. He said contracts such as the health care contract with NaphCare and the food services contract with Frank’s Restaurant at the sheriff’s office, which were both approved unanimously in January.
Schulz made the point during the work session that when the sheriff brings contracts to the county, the board only had the authority to provide the sheriff with the money for the contract, and not choose service providers. However, Craig said the sheriff would still have to comply with any ordinances made by the board.
Sims agreed with Henderson in that there needed to be a level playing field for all contracts. He again stressed the importance of the county looking at the way it handled contracts and suggested that it should be something the county looked at during their upcoming retreat.
“We’re just renewing contracts, without even taking a look at them. I just don’t — in my heart — believe it’s fair,” Sims said.
“Our county attorney came up with the contract to protect the county, not to lock us in for five years without a proposal from anybody else.”