Commission to decide on trash contract

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The Valencia County commissioners have decided to revisit the debate about how to handle trash pick up.

The issue, which has been discussed repeatedly for a number of years, got a second wind recently after a district court judge upheld the commission's 2012 decision to award an eight-year contract to Waste Management for curb side pick up of residential trash.

One of the main points of contention at this point is the need to rewrite the county's ordinance to align with the contract.

While Commissioner Alicia Aguilar expressed displeasure at the idea of the contract being the ruling document instead of the law, Valencia County attorney Dave Pato said the commissioners were aware of the required ordinance revamp when they signed the contract.

Neither Aguilar nor Commission Chairman Charles Eaton were on the commission when the contract was approved. Aguilar has said she has concerns about the ordinance as it currently reads, and Eaton has spoken out and said he personally does not like the contract.

After two public workshops and public comment, the commissioners pushed back their consideration to amend or terminate the Waste Management contract to their Wednesday, Aug. 6, meeting at the request of the company.

In a letter to the commissioners, Waste Management representative C. Lance Allen asked for a postponement because he couldn't attend the July 16 meeting due to a personal conflict.

"As noted during the public hearing held July 9, should the commissioners deem that the current agreement is no longer the best option for the (county), Waste Management will comply," Allen wrote.

At least twice during the July 9 workshop, Allen stated that the company was willing to work with the county to help in rewriting the ordinance, but was also willing to step aside if that was the commissioners' desire.

"We are more than willing to work with Valencia County to achieve the desired efforts. If it is no longer the wishes of the county to continue, Waste Management will comply and we will back out," Allen said.

He continued, saying at this point, the company hadn't begun gearing up for additional services in the county, and it shouldn't be a problem for it to simply step away from the contract.

"I think a five-minute conversation between your attorney and ours will take care of that," Allen said.

Allen told the commissioners changes to the ordinance were necessary because the law that was passed in 2008 envisioned multiple trash haulers, not a single hauler the county ended up with.

"It addresses things like the county providing service, the county doing collections, the county billing," he said. "The ordinance needs to address a single hauler chosen by the county."

During the July 9 meeting, Aguilar pressed Allen on exactly what would happen if a customer didn't pay their Waste Management bill.

"The existing ordinance talks about the obligations of county (in order) for Waste Management to be paid, for collection, do liens," Aguilar said. "What are you expecting?"

"I expect, Waste Management expects, an open dialogue with the county," Allen responded. "To be able to come to the table and discuss what is best for both parties."

Aguilar said the county's ordinance stated that property owners have to allow enforcement officers onto their property to check for trash, otherwise "they shall be arrested. It's what it says, 'shall.' Under the ordinance, are we going to have to set up a new department. Who is going to place liens, release liens?"

The subject of a residential trash program has been discussed for six years, said Commissioner Mary Andersen. She noted that during that time, it was discussed that the county might need to add one to two employees to deal with nonpayment issues.

"It seems absolutely impossible for me to understand that people are not expecting to pay for an obligation and that there will be consequences," Andersen said. "I realize some have financial problems. That's one reason we imposed the $2.50 service fee so that we can take care of some of those people who are really financially strapped. Those who are irresponsible, well that's something else."

Andersen said the ordinance had to be changed since it referred to multiple haulers.

"I don't see a really big issue with any of this after six or seven years of discussion," she said.

Eaton said while Waste Management currently has about 5,000 customers in the county, many of the people he's talked to are very happy with their current service by another hauler.

"They are not happy with the decision made by the commission in 2012. I understand we might not have a say; this may be a done deal," Eaton said.

The chairman acknowledged there has been a lot of time spent on the issue and said the county should have a well-tuned ordinance to go with the contract.

"It's not proper to award the contract and then come back and say there are major problems and technical issues," he said. "It's disturbing to hear we spent so much time on this issue and yet we still have problems. How do we justify to the public a $20 million, eight-year contract that has issues?"

Aguilar said she attended many of the meetings, and while there was a lot of discussion about haulers and mandatory pick up, she didn't remember a lot of discussion about the ordinance.

"Whatever I do as a commissioner, I have to base it on the law. We have the ordinance here that you agree needs to be changed," she said. "I will say 'shame on the county if it didn't look at the ordinance.'"


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