In what is likely to be a contentious decision, the Santa Barbara City Council will reach out to a consultant to help in the process of awarding one company a highly lucrative trash contract. The move was approved 6-1 on Tuesday, with Councilman Dale Francisco dissenting.

One of the city’s two trash collection zones is up for grabs when that contract expires in 2013. Allied Waste Services of Santa Barbara holds the Zone 1 contract, and MarBorg Industries holds the other — and the two have been in a contentious bidding war for the past year.

Santa Barbara County, as well as the City of Goleta, recently approved contracts with MarBorg, and Allied’s last territory is on Santa Barbara’s Westside.

Aside from the contentious nature of the bidding, the contracts are huge and can last 10 years — or longer. The contract for only Zone 1 will exceed $80 million if the term is 10 years, according to Kristy Schmidt, the city’s employee relations manager.

The City Council awarded the consulting contract to HF&H Consultants LLC. The amount for the consultant can’t exceed $110,200, and that money will come from the city’s solid waste fund reserves.

The company specializes in advising cities and counties about solid waste and recycling. A city staff report stated that the company had conducted hundreds of similar negotiations, and hoped the consultant would be able to save the city money in the long term. The hauler selected would have to reimburse the city for the costs as part of the agreement. The city went through a similar process in 2001, and contracted with an outside firm.

“It is a small price to pay with potentially great trade-offs,” Schmidt said.

It’s likely that the city will see about five companies come out to bid throughout the process, and the consultant will help the city craft a request for proposals, based on the recent documents the county put together in its bidding process.

Councilman Randy Rowse raised questions about some of the programs the city has embraced, and whether they deserve to continue in the new contracts. The city’s foodscraps program and whether it was sustainable was of particular interest to Rowse, who has used the program personally. Santa Barbara County and its cities are struggling with how to deal with limited space at Tajiguas landfill, and the foodscraps program is one way to divert compostables from the dump.

City Finance Director Bob Samario said he did think it was sustainable, particularly among commercial establishments. Burying trash is the most expensive way to deal with waste, he said, adding that it costs $55 per ton to divert waste and $72 a ton to bury it at Tajiguas.

Francisco also drew attention to the program. The city had hired a consultant before administering that program, but the city had come up with $500,000 in the process and had to raise rates.

“We need to decide exactly what it is that we want in terms of solid waste services before we hire a consultant,” he said.

Schmidt later said that a consultant would be brought on board to help the council decide which services it wanted, not the other way around.

“Our idea was to bring a consultant on board to help you determine what you want,” Schmidt said.

According to plans from HF&F, the company expects to select trash contractors for negotiations by July 2012 and initiate the new service by June 2013.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

— Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.