Already at least $700,000 over budget because of an overestimate in the number of $1.75 yard waste stickers that would be sold, the troubled yard waste program took another hit Monday night, March 14, when City Council approved a change order adding about $78,000 to the yard waste pick up contract in 2011 and significantly more in coming years.  Council approved the additional cost after Groot Industries threatened to walk away from the contract if it was not renegotiated.

According to a staff memo presented to Council, Evanston residents have purchased far more yard waste carts than anticipated. Rather than pay for individual yard waste stickers to affix to bags, residents have opted for the one-time fee to purchase a cart and the $25 annual fee to then have it emptied.

When Groot bid on the project, according to the memo, they based their bid on 1,500 to 3,000 carts. Carts take longer to empty, said Public Works Director Suzette Robinson, because they must be hooked up to a truck and then hydraulically lifted and emptied. Bags can be simply and quickly tossed into a truck.

Rather than 1,500 or 3,000, there are now 4,400 yard waste carts on Groot’s route, with another 100 on order. “As a result Groot had to increase the number of trucks collecting yard waste from three to four. Adding an additional truck cost Groot approximately $160,000.00,” according to the memo.

The contract increase in 2011 is about $78,210; $116,600 in 2012; $146,500 in 2013; $168,000 in 2014; and $166,000 through contract expiration in October 2015. These are estimates based on a unit price per stop, which escalates from $3.35 in 2010 to $4.85 in 2015.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said, “This is exactly the kind of thing that happens when we privatize.” In less than a year, the contractor comes back and asks for more money, she added.

Council was not informed that there was any limit on the number of yard waste receptacles that Groot could pick up, said Ms. Robinson, in response to a question from Ald. Rainey. A provision in the contract, however, allowed them the opportunity to renegotiate, and apparently to terminate the contract and walk away, based upon volume collected, she said. “They [Groot] asked for that,” Ms. Robinson said.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, expressed concern that the increased contract cost would be passed on to citizens in the next budget cycle. City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said that any such increase would be up to Council. Much like water and sewer rates, Mr. Bobkiewicz said, rate adjustments are anticipated in 2012.

“I’ve thought about the yard waste piece a lot,” said Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward. The City gave Groot incomplete information when they bid on the contract, she added. The increased cost is the City’s fault because of woefully inaccurate estimates of carts and stickers, and Groot should not be blamed. She called for “better data, not just data that makes out numbers add up to what we want.”

The measure passed unanimously at the Administration and Public Works Committee, and then without debate on the consent agenda at Council. Look for a spirited discussion about the annual fee for yard waste carts during the next budget cycle, with costs likely to increase significantly.