Landfill Agreement Prepped for Release; BREACH OF CONTRACT Court-Ordered Mediation Brought about the Settlement Agreement after Waste Management Filed a Lawsuit against the City. COMPARISON the Settlement Offer and Mayor John Peyton's Proposal Will Be Analyzed on the Overall Cost

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Byline: TIA MITCHELL

Jacksonville City Council Auditor Kirk Sherman is not yet ready to release his office's analysis of a proposed settlement agreement between the city and Waste Management to end a lawsuit over the Trail Ridge landfill.

However, Sherman said it is likely the conclusion will be similar to the one he drew about a year ago when reviewing Mayor John Peyton's proposed landfill contract extension.

"It appears like you're supposed to bid it," Sherman said.

He said not only do Florida laws outline a preference for competitive bidding, the City Council's decision last year to kill the mayor's proposed landfill contract extension pointed toward the same outcome.

Sherman's office is analyzing the proposed settlement and completing a report for release this week.

Included in that analysis will be suggestions for improving the proposal on the table, if that is the direction the council decides to take, as well as a side-by-side cost analysis comparing the settlement to the mayor's proposal, the existing agreement and other scenarios.

Most council members have refrained from weighing in on the settlement proposal, saying it is the council auditor's report that will guide their decision making.

Council President Richard Clark said the analysis is done in a way that is easy to understand and draw conclusions.

"We're going to be able to compare all those deals together and really be able to see line-item by line-item what we're looking at," Clark said.

The settlement agreement is the result of court-ordered mediation as part of Waste Management's lawsuit against the city.

The company alleged breach of contract last year after the council decided to pursue open bidding as opposed to approving the mayor's proposed contract extension, worth an estimated $750 million over 35 years.

The city General Counsel's Office and Waste Management lawyers created the settlement, which could give Waste Management the right to operate Trail Ridge for as many as 35 years.

The Council Auditor's Office report will be considered the official calculation of how much the settlement agreement would cost taxpayers, and council members have said they would give it serious consideration only if the report said the savings are substantially more than Peyton's proposal.

If that is the case, it would be an incentive for the council to approve the settlement and avoid paying $750,000 in legal fees to see the case through a December trial. The city has already spent $450,000 hiring the Bishop Tanner law firm to defend itself.

If the council auditor's report determines the settlement proposal would cost about the same or more than the mayor's proposal, council members say they are unlikely to change course from their decision last April to pursue legal clarification on the existing contract and allow companies to bid for the right to operate the landfill once it expands over the years.

A decision must be made by the end of the month. The council will meet April 19 to discuss the issue and the auditor's report. …