Council members Rush Hill, Tony Petros and Ed Selich dissented, while Mayor Keith Curry and council members Leslie Daigle, Nancy Gardner and Michael Henn voted in approval of the plan.
Nobody will lose their job, city manager Dave Kiff confirmed. They are guaranteed alternative employment.
The three bidders being considered are CR&R, Ware and Rainbow Disposal.
The lowest bids received appear to result in savings or cost avoidance of about $17 million over a seven-year contract term, according to the city.
That is a significant amount, Curry commented.
“If we can save $17 million by having somebody else pick it up,” Curry said, “then we should do that.”
Other cities that have privatized the service do not have inferior refuse collection when compared to Newport Beach, he said.
But not all the council members agreed.
Hill said he understood the budget issues, difficulties surrounding the issue and the reality of the situation, but he had some concerns.
A goal, if outsourcing a city service, would be to have equal or better quality service at a lower cost, Hill commented.
“What I’m still struggling with is, have we found that equal or better quality service?” Hill asked. “I think the thing we have not grappled with correctly is what we have, very loosely, called the quality of life.”
Hill’s comments were met with scattered applause before he continued.
When he first got involved in city government, when he tried to define “quality of life” he found that people safety, aesthetics and cleanliness were high on the list.
“We love our police, we love our fire and we love our trash,” he said.
It comes down to quality of life, he continued, and he doesn’t think they have found the right path for Newport Beach yet.
“I think that we have some more work to do,” Hill said. “I’m just not sure that we have agreement with the public.”
And the public had a lot to say during the meeting.
There are a lot of unanswered questions and “gray areas,” said Eastbluff resident Bill Hossfeld, who has lived in Newport Beach for 44 years.
“I totally understand what the city has to do and needs to reduce costs and keep them under control,” he said, and praised Kiff for his fiscal responsibility, but “I think there are a lot of questions we all have.”
It’s important to very carefully look at the details of the contract, he emphasized.
Nearly all of the public comments were remarks in opposition to outsourcing the trash or supported the idea of more discussion before any decision to move forward.
“I don’t believe that we’ve done enough analysis on the proposals,” said longtime resident Rod MacDonald.
He emphasized that the large 10 percent spread between the bids proves that there are some other issues that need to be considered.
“I would recommend that you spend more time and look at the details of the proposal,” MacDonald said. “So we as citizens know that we’re getting not the cheapest service, but the best service.”
Portia Weiss, who has lived in Newport Beach for 23 years, agreed.
“Service is the most important thing you can get,” she said. “We’ve had fabulous service… We have the most amazing ambassadors in our alleys.”
Daigle said the council got the message “loud and clear” that the overriding point is the level of service and the city needs to manage a private contractor as well as the current in-house service is being managed.
She noted that because of the financial burden, all other Orange County cities have moved toward private service.
“Newport Beach has to do it too,” Daigle said.
About one-third of the city is already using private service, she explained, and “they are very satisfied with the service. They like their trash guys.”
“I firmly believe that when private sector workers (are) here, we’ll like them too,” she added.
Selich was on the other side of the issue.
“I’m opposed to the outsourcing,” Selich said, eliciting applause from the audience, “and make no bones about it.”
“I think we’re elected to represent the people that voted us into office,” he continued, and “the people that have contacted me, in overwhelming numbers, more than any other issue since I’ve been on the council in the last eight years, are opposed to outsourcing the trash.”
Selich also commented that he believes once the city outsources the trash, they lose control over the quality of service. The city has outsourced a number of services over the years, he continued, some more successful than others.
The $17 million savings is spun to sound significant, he said, but it comes down to $93 per year, which Selich, as a resident, said he would be willing to pay to keep the high quality service the city refuse collectors provide.
The pensions and salary are “red herrings,” he said, there are other positions within the city where they can save it, ones in which they do not have the direct interaction with the public that refuse employees have.
Ideally, he would want the service to remain in-house, he said, but study other collection methods.
Kiff explained why he thought this action was necessary.
“I believe the health of our city depends on reducing the heavy city costs,” through retirement, worker’s compensation, and health, Kiff said, without compromising service and without impacting public safety, while still keeping the community looking good.
Staff will gather more information about the three bidders for the automated service proposals and will come back to council with more information and a recommendation.