SEBRING - Sebring residents and businesses will see no changes in their garbage pickup services anytime in the near future.
After months of discussion, a sharply divided Sebring City Council voted 3-2 that the city should retain its solid waste pickup service rather than contract with a private company.
Council members John Griffin, Scott Stanley and Bud Whitlock favored keeping the service.
Council members Andrew Fells and John Clark favored accepting the low bid from WSI, which serves unincorporated Highlands County.
City officials had indicated that rates for residents would not have dropped if the city chose a private company and that, instead, savings would be used to help keep property taxes low.
Griffin said he favored keeping the service because, even with a rate as low as $12.75 a month, the city is making a profit.
"We're putting that money into the general fund and keeping real estate taxes down," Griffin said.
He noted that the garbage collection service provided more than $100,000 this year and is expected to give $250,000 next year.
"It's a win-win situation," he said, as rates are low and its helping to keep property tax rates lower.
Griffin also said that because of the decision, 10 employees will keep their jobs. The city is also in a better position to provide extra services if needed, he said.
But Fells said contracting with a private company would help the city avoid the liability of capital purchases for garbage pickup.
He estimated that during the next few years, the city will face spending up to $1.6 million for new trucks and other equipment. WSI would have paid the city $600,000 for its existing equipment, he said.
Fells also noted that only during two of the last five years did the city make a profit, and the projection for this coming year is just that.
"We won't truly know what the number will be until the end of next year," he said. There's no guarantee of profits in future years, he said.
Griffin, however, said he believes the city will face some additional expenses and doesn't believe the sale of the equipment justifies contracting with WSI.
The bottom line, he said, is that a few companies wanted to bid on the service.
"Why would these companies want to come in and pick up our service if it wasn't a profitable thing?" he asked.