Tarpon trash bills to double

Single-family homeowners will pay $28.12 a month instead of $13.60. Mobile home rates will increase from $8.06 to $27.50.

Published September 30, 2006

TARPON SPRINGS - City officials have negotiated an agreement to rein in the upcoming hike in trash collection charges.

Still, there is likely to quite a bit of sticker shock when garbage bills go out next month.

For example, single-family homeowners who used to pay $13.60 a month will now be charged $28.12 for twice-weekly curbside pickups of garbage and recyclables. Mobile home residents will see their bills go from $8.06 to $27.50.

The fact is that the days of single-digit trash disposal rates are over, city officials said.

While there is no denying that there will be dramatic increases when the new contract with Waste Management goes into effect Sunday, officials said the new rates are less than the $34.20 typical residents of the unincorporated part of the Pinellas County pay each month.

Also, what makes the spikes so extreme are the atypically low rates the city has managed to maintain for the past decade, officials said.

Regardless, the city only had one alternative - and it was worse.

In anticipation of the old Waste Management contract coming to an end, the city staff sent out a request for bids this spring hoping to attract competitive offers from an array of prospective haulers.

It elicited just one response - from Waste Services of Florida.

The terms: new equipment, promise of superior service, and collection rates anywhere between 35 percent and 438 percent higher than current prices, according to the city's summary of the bid.

For standard residential service - twice-weekly curbside pickups - the city said Waste Services proposed monthly a rate of $38.34.

"I can't do this to the citizens of Tarpon Springs until we know there is no other option," said City Commissioner Peter Nehr, after getting briefed on the matter at a June commission meeting.

"I seriously think we're going to have residents choosing between prescription drugs and getting their trash picked up," said Mayor Beverley Billiris.

"I'm sure Waste Services can give us gold trash cans," she said.

The City Commission unanimously voted to end negotiations with the company - even with no other official contenders. It instead opted to gamble with a plan to re-approach Waste Management.

Sure enough, just minutes after the vote was cast at the June meeting, a Waste Management employee sitting in the audience popped up.

The company was game to begin negotiations, he told the commission.

The contract that has been hammered out since then clearly represents an improvement, the city staff told commissioners last week.

Not only is there no need for new equipment or dumpsters, but also Waste Management's new rates average 36 percent lower than those presented by Waste Services.

Yet, clearly, the city's garbage honeymoon is over.

The company - in keeping with the rest of the market - said it can no longer agree to cap annual rates adjustments.

That means come October next year, residents should expect a new round of rate hikes.

Robin Stein can be reached at rstein@sptimes.com or 727 445-4157