Fifty-year company could lose half its business to Blaine provider
A messy issue is making the rounds at City Hall, and its outcome will significantly impact a local business that is marking its 50th year in the community.
The city’s agreement with Forest Lake Sanitation expires July 30, and for the first time since at least 1989 – if not ever – the city has requested proposals from multiple refuse and recycling providers.
The current agreement was entered into in 1999 and extended for 10 years in 2004. The work was not put out for bid in 1999 or when the previous agreement was signed in 1989, according to Marge Strand, who with her husband Cameron owns Forest Lake Sanitation. The company has handled local disposal services since being founded in 1964, Strand said. The Strands purchased it in 1985.
For the sake of fiscal responsibility, the City Council and City Administrator Aaron Parrish have recently made it a practice to test the market by bidding out expiring contracts. In late 2012 the city switched its contracted engineering firm to Bolton and Menk from its longtime firm of choice, Stantec (formerly Bonestroo).
The council in January authorized a request for proposals regarding refuse and recycling services. In February, a review committee consisting of Parrish, Finance Director Ellen Paulseth and Council Members Ben Winnick and Susan Young analyzed the five proposals received. Three providers interviewed, and the council on March 24 authorized the committee to negotiate with both Forest Lake Sanitation and Blaine-based Walters Recycling and Refuse.
Estimated terms under a new agreement with Forest Lake Sanitation are not available, but Parrish said Walters Recycling and Refuse has offered pricing that would save homeowners an average of $65 per year from the current rates.
Strand said losing Forest Lake would halve the workload of the 30-employee company.
“It’s going to be devastating to us,” she said.
Upon hearing of the city’s plan for bidding, the Forest Lake native said she felt like a wife of 25 years who was being left for somebody “younger, prettier and cheaper.”
“It just knocked the socks off of us,” Strand said.
The company has long supported community causes such as Forest Lake’s Fourth of July celebration and the high school rodeo in Hugo, Strand said, noting Forest Lake Sanitation spends $1.5 million annually between wages and purchasing local goods and services.
“We try to keep a positive attitude (about the negotiations),” she said. “We’ve had excellent references from people in Forest Lake who came to our defense and were very upset along with us because we’ve done so much in giving back to the community.”
Regardless of the provider, the city expects the final refuse and recycling agreement to include several new options for residents, such as a seasonal subscription for curbside yard waste removal and access to extra recycling carts at no cost. Down the road, the city could consider adding the collection of compostable organics to the agreement.
Recycling service would continue on an every-other-week, single-stream basis.
Once negotiations are complete, the review committee will make a recommendation to the council. Parrish expects a decision to be made this spring. The new agreement could be for five years with options for up to two one-year extensions.
He said this week that the committee will consider all factors.
“We’ve had a long-standing relationship (with Forest Lake Sanitation), but we have to balance that out with other items, and one of those is obviously price,” he said. “Ultimately we’re negotiating on behalf of all the households in Forest Lake.”