By Ed Brock
Walking laps in Starr Park, Ann Jones of Forest Park was surprised, and a little concerned, to hear that the city was thinking about contracting out its garbage collection.
She plans to be at one of three public meetings at which the city plans to release information and gather opinions on contracting with Waste Management, an arrangement the city says will save money and ensure the same level of service. Jones, and perhaps some others, may be skeptical.
"They say the price won't change, but it does, eventually," Jones said.
But Forest Park Mayor Chuck Hall and Public Works Director Mike Gippert say they want people to know the city's position on the need for the contract. Thus the meetings, scheduled for Friday at 6 p.m., Monday at 5 p.m. and next Thursday at 10 a.m., all at the city's police headquarters at 320 Cash Memorial Drive.
"It's just a town hall meeting to meet with the public to discuss an issue," Hall said.
They plan to demonstrate that the city has three choices; stay in the garbage collection business and raise rates substantially, get out of the business altogether and risk a breakdown in collection or privatize the service.
Hall said the enterprise fund from which the city's garbage collection is operated is more than $400,000 in debt to the city. Currently residents pay $15 a month for service that includes twice weekly pickup, free yard debris pick up and bulk item pickup that has a set price per item for larger items.
If the city is to continue the service, Gippert said, they would have to increase their charges from $180 a year to $240 a year. They would also have to do something to improve their leaf and limb collection, such as requiring citizens to bag leaves and bundle stems, because the current system of picking them up is too labor intensive.
Hall said the $15 a month fee covered the cost of the system back in 1992, but since then the cost of operating has gone up.
"You're getting Cadillac service and you're paying Pinto prices," Hall said.
If the city simply stopped the collection service and told residents to contract individually with a company of their choice, then there's the possibility that a trash could build up in front of households that are not contracted or are canceled for non-payment.
So in August the city sent out requests for proposals and Waste Management's bid was the "most responsive."
For the same cost Waste Management will provide twice weekly garbage pickup with three bags or boxes of trash per week as well. They will pick up yard debris, but it must be bagged and they will pick up to 15 bags a week for free.
They will pick up five bulk items, such as mattresses and furniture, a week for free and will charge $8 per item over that limit. They will allow the city to hold four "Clean Sweep" operations a year instead of two. The "Clean Sweep" program allows residents to dispose of anything other than bricks, concrete and dirt for free.
Nobody will lose their job, either, Hall said. Waste Management has agreed to absorb 18 of the city's 27 waste collection workers, the city would send seven to other positions and two will be retained to oversee Waste Management's work.
"They will go around every day monitoring their services," Hall said.
Hall said the city would maintain control over the service. Also, the $15 a month price has been locked in for at least the next three years.
Gippert said there would be other benefits to privatizing the waste collection.
"This is going to allow us to get into the storm water infrastructure maintenance like we used to," Gippert said.
Forest Park City Councilman Donald Judson said he's still making up his mind about the contract, and he's looking forward to the meeting to hear from the people.
"If it's the will of the people I'll go along with it," Judson said.
Councilman Wes Lord said he's open to the idea, but he would insist that the city keep some of the old employees "so if we had to take it back over we could."