Green Park OKs three-year trash pickup pact

Some residents say rates too high

By BURKE WASSON

The city of Green Park will pay for residential recycling, but aldermen last week approved trash-pickup rates that are more than what some residents say they already are paying.

The Board of Aldermen voted 4-1 on Dec. 18 to approve a three-year contract with an option for three more years for trash services with American Eagle. Ward 1 Alderman Judy Betlach was opposed.

Under the agreement with American Eagle, once-per-week trash pickup will cost $10 per month and twice-per-week pickup will be $12 per month. Senior citizens will pay a discount rate of $9 per month for once-a-week trash service.

Yard-waste service will cost residents $9 per month for the first year, and each resident will receive up to two waste containers for free.

But while residents will benefit from free containers and free recycling, some told aldermen last week that if their rates will be higher, they would like the city to pay for trash pickup.

The approved contract does contain a renegotiation clause that allows the city to pay for residential trash pickup after one year of service. The majority of aldermen believe that having the clause would allow the city to see an actual cost for one year of service before deciding if they want to pay for that annual service out of city funds.

But residents who attended last week’s Board of Aldermen meeting pointed out that their trash fees will be higher with the board’s approval of the new contract with American Eagle.

“I’m going to end up paying more,” resident Anthony Pousosa told aldermen. “And I don’t think that’s fair to me because the last I recall our flag says we live in the United States of America and I have a choice. But I feel that you’ve made that choice for me. So now I am going to be paying more. And to me, that’s not a good business deal.”

Because he said he is being forced to not have a choice and pay more for it, Pousosa told the board he would like to have free trash pickup and hinted that he might file for candidacy in the April election to help ensure that.

“I really think the city of Green Park should pay for it,” Pousosa said. “If you’re going to go forward with this and not at least give us a chance to vote on it if we want that or not, then you should pay for it. That’s what I said three months ago, and I’m going to stand by that now, especially now seeing the numbers as it’s getting closer to the deadline of making the decision. It’s not fair.

“I feel that the board here should represent the citizens here. And I think I’m going to consider maybe running for the board to make sure that the people are heard. That’s what the board’s for.”

Ward 1 Alderman Bob Reinagel, who Pousosa would oppose in the April election if he files as a candidate, said he would support free trash pickup in the future, but could not now because the city does not know what the true annual cost of that service would be.

Reinagel also said he believes the fact that curbside recycling will be free for residents makes Green Park a leader among local cities.

“I think we’re all kind of headed in the same direction (on free trash pickup),” Reinagel said. “It’s just that the timing of it is not what we agree with. And I guess if we’re looking for positions or concerns, the first concern is you talk about recycling. I don’t think anyone could argue that recycling’s bad. It saves landfill space. It’s a direction we should have and everybody should have. If we want to take a leading edge in that, we should start off by saying: ‘OK, let’s figure a way to get recycling for everyone.’ I think we’re all in agreement that the city will pay for the recycling portion of it and offer that to all the citizens at no charge.”

But Alderman Judy Betlach, also from Ward 1, proposed to aldermen before their final vote on the contract with American Eagle that the city revisit the possibility of also funding free trash service for citizens.

By Betlach’s estimation, the cost to fund free trash service would mean the city would pay roughly an additional $60,000 to $70,000 per year, which she said could be funded from Green Park’s reserve fund of more than $3 million.

“If we say $12 a week for twice-a-week pickup, we take it times a thousand residents times 12 months a year, it comes up with a trash contract of $144,000. The city’s thinking about funding, or has agreed to fund, the recycling for $48,000. And that leaves a residential bill of $96,000. To recap, we talked that we were going to, it was not a consensus, but the majority of the board agreed to a one-year hiatus to gather data for the city-funded decision.

“In this other approach that I took where if the trash contract was $144,000, we took $48,000 of that for recycling. And then if the city would contract, we would save, I’m suggesting a fourth of the costs. Because then they wouldn’t have to worry about billing and going through all the administration. We probably have a $60,000 bill yet. And for $60,000 more, we could pay for the trash pickup. And we’ve got a $3.5 million surplus.”

When asked by Ward 2 Alderman Jackie Wilson what the total cost would be with yard waste included, Betlach responded that residents could contract their yard-waste services however they wish.

If that approach would not work, Betlach questioned why the city has to approve a trash-service contract before the end of the year instead of further studying what a more accurate total cost to the city would be.

“I’m not rushing into a total cost,” Betlach said. “You know, maybe you want to do it only once a week. You could save $2 a month and maybe about $12,000 out of that. But why not start somewhere for the people?”

“There’s quite a few people recycling, too,” said board President Fred Baras of Ward 3. “And so are you going to tell them that you can’t get recycling? We’re just going to do this for the other people?”

“Recycling is included,” Betlach said.

“Right,” Baras said. “But the city paid for it. Are you going to have the city pay for it?”

“Yes,” Betlach said. “The city paid for it here. You’re going to pay for it the way it is now. And if I put it in there and I take away the billing cost of whatever it’s going to be, that’s where I came up with $60,000.”

“You’re still not getting an accurate figure of who’s picking up trash, who’s recycling, who’s doing yard waste,” Baras said. “I think we wait a year and get an accurate figure for all of this, then we would know.”

“We’ve got two-thirds of it right now,” Betlach said. “We’ve got the twice-a-week trash and we have the recycling. And the only thing that we would gather in the next year is the yard waste. And we could, next year, look at it. People at least would get a break. The people that aren’t doing the yard waste would get a break. And even if they are, they still get a break.”

Besides the costs associated with the new trash contract, former alderman Fred Hoehn questioned whether city officials had unfairly negotiated the proposed contract with American Eagle.

He pointed out an informal memo between Mayor Steve Armstrong and City Administrator/City Clerk Diana Mize in which the two discussed results of a recent meeting with American Eagle officials. At that meeting, Green Park officials expressed a willingness to fund recycling services, which was not included in the city’s request for proposals on a trash contract.

“I bid on federal contracts before,” Hoehn said. “And if I bid on a contract like these other people did other than American and I find out a couple months later that there was some kind of informal meeting where something else was discussed and I wasn’t given the privilege of having the same discussion, I almost call that bid rigging. But I’m not saying that with Green Park. But when you’re dealing with a federal contract, this would not fly. Why just meet with American Eagle? Were the other bidders left out of this?”

“No, but they (American Eagle) were the low bidder,” Wilson responded.

“It doesn’t make any difference,” Hoehn said. “You’re changing the contract here. You’re changing what you originally contracted out. It says the city can fund and provide curbside recycling for residential properties. Did you ever tell the other people that? No. I don’t think you did. That, to me, is scary.”