During Tuesday night’s city council meeting, council approved a recommendation from staff to purchase a $239,400 Elgin Whirlwind Street Sweeper, returning the street sweeping function to Mount Dora’s Public Works after several years of outsourcing.
In addition to making the routine rounds within the city, the private contract also has included sweeping up after special events in the downtown area. According to staff, costs of this service have risen steeply over the course of the contract, while the perceived value by the residents has been less than exemplary. Mount Dora has paid the USA Services of Florida $40,463 for sweeping services, to date for 2015 (another payment is expected before year end).
John Peters, Mount Dora Public Works Director stated that residents’ concerns were brought forward to the contractor on several occasions. He said city phones have been ringing with complaints about shoddy sweeping, the operator speeding through streets at a rate that rendered the sweeper ineffective, and other issues, related to less than desirable performance on the part of the contractor.
According to staff, in Lake County, most of the 14 municipalities own and operate their own sweepers. Bringing the service in-house allows more control and direct management and accountability of the function, according to Peters. The number of private street sweeping companies are dwindling because many municipalities are absorbing this function into their public works. Commercial companies now seem to focus on malls and shopping centers with machines that are less robust than those required to clean public streets, according to Peters.
Using a purchasing method referred to as “piggybacking,” the city will buy an Elgin Whirlwind based on bids collected by another municipality purchasing similar equipment. The Whirlwind not only cleans the streets, but also includes equipment necessary to vacuum out debris in storm drains. The cost of the machine also includes training for public works staff to operate and maintain the asset. No additional staff will be hired, with the return of the operation to public works.
The measure passed 6-1 to proceed as suggested, and the city will purchase the equipment and resume in house operation of street cleaning. Council member Denny Wood was the dissenting vote. His opposition stemmed from the lack of sweeping that occurs in a large part of his district, which is made up of gated neighborhoods with private streets the city does not maintain – including Loch Leven and the Lakes of Mount Dora.
Staff contends that liability concerns prevent the city from operating on private roadways and that development agreements created and approved by city council are clear that the city is not responsible for maintaining private streets. However, when pressed on the issue, City Manager Vince Pastue promised to investigate and report back to council about potential implications of adding the private roads to the street sweeper routes.
Michael Latanza, VP of USA Services, the contractor performing this service for the last 5 years, was taken aback by what he felt was the sudden change of course by the city. He claims that his Account Representative was not made aware of issues with the quality of their work. Aside from what he described as standard, run of the mill progress reports, the city never told USA Services that there were problems or that they were considering bringing the project in house.
“The City is selling this to the residents based on incomplete information about the costs. The dumping fees for the over 350 tons of material collected, maintenance and upkeep of the vehicle, diesel fuel and labor will far outweigh the $54,000 per year we were charging Mount Dora,” said Latanza at the meeting.
In a followup email to the Mount Dora Citizen, Latanza wrote, “We were very disappointed to learn the City of Mount Dora has decided to end our 5 year relationship providing street sweeping services and instead purchase its own sweeper truck. It is proven that this decision will cost the city approximately three times the amount of money annually they were previously spending on street sweeping services. The significant cost savings for the tax payers as well as having a more dependable level of service were the reasons the City decided to contract out this service in the past. Looking back we are proud of the quality street sweeping services we have provided to the City of Mount Dora over the past 5 years and hope to renew our relationship someday.”
The vehicle that performs the sweeping is considered an on-road vehicle which must be tagged and titled. This vehicle must also adhere to stringent EPA emissions standards, a point that was brought up by Councilman Donovan who pointed out that the quote accompanying the Staff request stated that the unit was equipped with an obsolete Tier 3 engine. John Peters, Public Works Director assured Council that the unit was new and did meet current EPA regulations.
Joe Runnels, Writer (firstname.lastname@example.org)