KAILUA-KONA — Abandoned vehicles are more than eyesores, traffic hazards and general nuisances to the county and the taxpayer.
They’re also big business.
Hawaii County allocates $600,000 annually for disposal of abandoned vehicles. Another $300,000 is earmarked for towing costs in fiscal year 2018-19, up $100,000 from the year before.
Last fiscal year, the disposal allocation fell short of covering total costs by about $20,000, according to numbers provided by the county Department of Environmental Management.
Part of the issue is the sheer number of abandoned vehicles the county must manage — 969 disposed of in fiscal year 2017-18, according to numbers provided by Environmental Management Director Bill Kucharski.
The other half of the equation is disposal costs, which the county bids out to contractors on each side of the island.
In East Hawaii, two bidders vied for the disposal contract, the winning bid belonging to HMP Inc., dba Business Services Hawaii, at $297 per vehicle. Only one company submitted a bid in West Hawaii, Big Island Scrap Metal, at a price of $675 per vehicle. Neither price includes the cost of towing, which is handled via separate contracts with towing contractors.
“I do not believe the county is getting the best price (in West Hawaii),” Kucharski said.
Big Island Scrap Metal currently charges a disposal fee of a nickel per pound plus $6 per tire to customers coming in off the street. That would equate to a disposal cost of $324 for a 6,000-pound vehicle with four tires.
Most disposals weigh in at 6,000 pounds or less. However, county contractors agree to accept all vehicles when submitting bids.
The manager at Big Island Scrap Metal said beyond protecting against the disposal of large vehicles, the cost per abandoned vehicle the company charges the county factors in the time and effort it takes to clean the vehicles out — a responsibility left to the contractor.
He added sometimes employees find extra tires, which also drives up costs.
West Hawaii sees more abandoned vehicles than East Hawaii, accounting for 605 of the 969 disposed of in FY 2017-18.
Despite multiple attempts, neither the manager nor the owner of HMP Inc. could be reached for comment to explain how it can afford to offer the county a rate less than half of what Big Island Scrap Metal charges.
Kucharski said contract periods typically span one year.
Rebidding the contract in West Hawaii isn’t likely to make a difference, however, as long as no bid competition exists to drive down prices.
In an effort to limit roadside abandoned vehicles, Kucharski’s department announced last week a short-term program during which it will pick up the disposal fees for applicants with a vehicle to discard. The program is slated to last through April 30.
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