ATHENS, Ohio — Athens City Council continues to deliberate solid waste contract details with the current contract’s end in sight.
Athens Service Safety Director Andrew Stone suggested a proposal for an emergency contract at an April 24 City and Service Safety Committee meeting, following the April 3 rejection of the initial bids for the 2023 Municipal Solid Waste and Recycling contract.
The current contract, set to expire on June 30, cannot be extended because the current waste hauler, Athens-Hocking Recycling Centers, Inc., says it cannot continue service at the current rate.
The emergency contract would increase residential and franchise rates by 23%. That’s lower than the 37% increase that was discussed in earlier council sessions.
In a memorandum to all City Council members dated April 27 — updated from a memorandum dated April 24 — Stone explained that the increase for residential customers applies to can rates, recycling support, extra bags, special hauls and composting. The increases were originally presented with all fees incorporated into the can rate, which made that rate appear to be higher than it really was.
In any case, the emergency contract would increase rates for customers, Stone said.
AHRC Executive Director Bruce Underwood said at a May 8 committee meeting that the company factored in inflation and high fuel costs in the emergency contract bid.
“[The Producer Price Index] verified a lot of my numbers — I did internal computations,” said Underwood. “I think it’s the fairest way to approach it. The federal index that we can look to … is a good data set we can use to understand how cost escalates over time because of all the factors that go into providing a service like tires and fuel and trucks.”
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According to the index, waste hauling monthly costs have increased by 22.4% from January 2020 to March 2023.
The emergency contract would last for six months, giving Service Safety Director Stone time to draft new bid documents for AHRC and competitor Rumpke Waste & Recycling to submit new bids. The timing also would align the emergency contract with the city’s fiscal year.
A drawn-out debate
The stark increase inspired questions and strong reactions from council members.
In the May 8 committee meeting, Alan Swank, 4th Ward, asked if another bidder could take up the emergency contract. Stone later responded that he had given his recommendation and would wait for the council’s next actions.
Swank questioned the emergency contract in council’s April 24 meeting. “I don’t know how any business in their right mind could ask for this crap,” Swank said. He noted that the current inflation rate is 4.98%.
“We should have never thrown out those two bids,” he said, referring to the original bids for a new contract submitted by AHRC and Rumpke. “But we folded — we folded because of community peer pressure. Everyone in this room knows that one bid was better than the other.”
During a previous committee meeting, Swank said that he was “torn” between which initial bid to choose, given the community’s history with AHRC and the lower price offered by Rumpke.
Council member Sam Crowl, 3rd Ward, took issue with Swank’s comments.
“I just wanted to correct [a] factual error in member Swank’s comments, in that every single person in this room did not agree with you on what the best bid that we received was,” Crowl said. “And I sat next to you for 25 minutes expressing why I felt one of the bids is better than the other bid — you are talking about money.”
Crowl supported AHRC’s initial bid. In previous meetings, he noted AHRC’s contributions to sustainability efforts and connections with the community.
Crowl also pointed out that Ohio Revised Code section 153.09 states that if the lowest bid is not in the best interests of the community, another may be chosen or all bids may be thrown out. (One city resident who spoke to council about the original contract bids referred to a recent garbage truck fire in Columbus involving a Rumpke truck.)
Swank responded to Crowl saying, “Everybody in this room who objectively reviewed the bids and did not have a vested interest in the outcome would logically come to that conclusion,” apparently suggesting Rumpke’s bid was superior.
“You and I and the other three people up here could start a trash company tomorrow, it’s not difficult,” Swank continued. “You go out and get yourself some trucks, you drive up and down the road, you throw stuff in the back of the truck when the truck is full, you take it to the dumping place, you rinse and repeat.”
“Folks, we’re talking about picking up garbage and compost — it’s not rocket science.”
Swank went on to similarly describe recycling before council member at-large Sarah Grace, chairing the committee meeting in place of absent member Micah McCarey, interjected.
“I would like to just stay focused and also I do take issue with you degrading the work of the members of our community who provide the garbage [and] recycling [service],” Grace said. “I would not say that it is easy to do well.”
Grace additionally suggested the possibility of subsidizing waste hauling by transferring money from the general fund to the garbage fund, thus insulating residents from cost increases. In council’s May 8 meeting, Mayor Steve Patterson said American Rescue Plan of 2021 money should be used, rather than the general fund.
Such a move could be addressed in one of three separate ordinances to resolve the various issues with the garbage contract.
Grace said one ordinance would accept the proposed six month emergency contract, while another would address the rate increase that would result. (That is where the city could vote to use other funds to ease cost increases for residents.)
The third ordinance would regard who would have the authorization to advertise and accept new bids: City Council or the Service Safety Director.
An ordinance authorizing the Service Safety Director to proceed is expected to appear on the City Council agenda for May 15, McCarey told the Independent on Wednesday.
Athens City Council meets every first and third Monday of the month at 7 p.m. in Council Chambers, third floor of the city building, at 8 E. Washington St.
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