County commission debates solid waste, Waste Management

........................................................................................................................................................................................

After several starts and stops, canceled procurements and even a lawsuit, it looks like curb-side trash pick up may see the light of day in unincorporated Valencia

Last month a district court judge upheld the county commission’s 2012 decision to award an exclusive contract to Waste Management of New Mexico. That started the clock ticking on the 100 days the company has to possibly begin service in early September.

With a year-plus lag in the implementation of the program, there were questions from both the commissioners and public during a workshop last week.

Valencia County Commissioner Alicia Aguilar said a review of the contract with Waste Management showed that the county was required to make changes to its solid waste ordinance.

“I read the ordinance and I have some huge concerns with the contract that is supposed to be in place very soon to apply to the ordinance,” Aguilar said.

The ordinance was prepared a “very long time before the county went out for contract,” said county attorney Dave Pato. “The request for proposals went out and this contract was ultimately how the commission wanted to proceed with solid waste in this county.

“When the commissioners approved the contract they did acknowledge changes in the ordinance were needed.”

He added that the county would use Waste Management for technical assistance to make those changes. The county’s solid waste ordinance was passed in May 2008.

County Commission Chairman Charles Eaton said he did not agree with the contract, which was awarded just weeks before he was sworn into office.

“This is a multimillion dollar contract that extends over a number of years. This is my personal comment — this disenfranchises residents of the county, removes their freedom of choice,” Eaton said.

Members of the audience responded with enthusiastic applause and whistles of approval.

Eaton said the changes to the ordinance should have been made up front, not after the contract was awarded.

Commissioner Mary Andersen said the ordinance changes were part of the “court-tested contract” with Waste Management.

“I think the previous commission did a great job for the county,” Andersen said. “This will help us clean up the trash we are so well noted for; everyone in the state knows we have trash lying everywhere. This will get us money to help mitigate the problem.”

Under the terms of the contract, residents will be billed $17.68 a month for trash pick up. Included in that amount is a $2.50 county administrative fee which will be used for county clean-up costs, contract administration and enforcement.

Eaton had to leave the meeting at that point, but did ask staff to schedule another workshop so the commissioners could hear from the public again.

That workshop is scheduled for Wednesday, July 9. Discussion of the contract with Waste Management will follow the public hearing, which begins at 5 p.m.

Waste management consultant Marlene Feuer said she was asked to review the ordinance and contract and found about 30 amendments that needed to be made to the ordinance.

“Some of the things that immediately came up was the ordinance contemplated the county having containers, the county doing the billing. None of that really applies anymore,” Feuer said. “This is a general clean up, nothing either for or against Waste Management.”

Lance Allen, Waste Management manager of public sector solutions for the Four Corners area, said the monthly rate in the contract — the $17.68 — was about six dollars cheaper than the company’s current rates in the unincorporated county.

An additional single-stream recycling bin could be added to a resident’s services for a monthly fee. The contract also stipulates that Waste Management will perform a minimum of six community clean ups in locations to be determined by the county commissioners, and residents will be able to request two bulky-item pick ups a year.

Allen said the company would assume the operation of the Conejo Transfer Station as well as build a second station in the county. When it takes over Conejo, Allen said Waste Management would make improvements to the facility to enhance safety and traffic flow.

Los Lunas Magistrate John Buddy Sanchez asked what the company’s process was to collect from people who didn’t pay their trash bills.

Allen said after written notices and phone calls, the company will typically stop service if a bill is more than 90 days past due.

“But with our agreement with the county, we won’t,” Allen said. “At that point, we would need some help collecting for services. Maybe a letter from the county saying they need to pay their bill. In other counties, they have placed liens (on properties). But there’s nothing in black and white that says what we do after that.”

Bill Silva, the chairman of the Mid-West New Mexico Community Action Program, asked if there would be any special rate considerations for senior citizens.

“We could provide some assistance to some who qualify by income — some seniors, low-income residents. However those funds are limited — first come, first serve, once a year,” Silva said.

Local small contractor Bobby Baca said he makes daily trips to Conejo when the facility is open. He wanted to know how much Waste Management would charge per load once it took over operations.

Allen said those rates have not been decided yet.

“I don’t mind paying, I just want to be able to go there and dump at all times,” Baca said. “People are willing to pay; they want a nice facility and can count on the dump being open.”

Meadow Lake resident Tom Mraz said he could see both sides of the issue. Since he moved to the community in 2006, he has been to court six times about his neighbors trash.

“In all that time, they got a $50 fine. I hate to see little guys put out of business but we have to have something,” Mraz said. “I am more than willing to spend that to get things cleaned up … The county is a pig pen.

“Like Obamacare, this may not be perfect, but it’s better than what we had. We have a responsible majority of us who have to suffer because the minority is not responsible.”


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.