By Ed Brock
The voice of the people has been heard and the Forest Park City Council is expected to vote soon on whether or not to privatize its garbage pickup.
On Thursday the city held the last of three public hearings on the subject of entering into a contract with Waste Management to provide the service which, according to city officials, has become too costly for the city to provide.
Unlike the first two meetings, Forest Park Director of Public Works Mike Gippert was able to finish his presentation on the proposed contract before the questions began flowing in from the audience. Also, more members of the audience seemed to support the plan, at least in theory.
According to Gippert the city is losing money on the sanitation business. If the city continues to provide the service, they would have to increase fees from $180 a year to $240 annually, Gippert said, and they would have to change the process for collecting yard waste, such as limbs and leaves.
Under the contract with Waste Management the price and service would stay the same, Gippert said. The city would have two supervisors overseeing the company's work and taking complaints from the residents, and there would be benefits, such as more free pickup for bulk items and a $10,000 annual grant that the city could use for any purpose.
Residents would continue to pay the same $15 a month rate for at least the first three years of the contract, Gippert said. They would be required to put leaves in paper bags and to bundle their tree limbs, but Waste Management would pick up 15 of those bags a week.
They would also pick up five "bulk" items, such as furniture and mattresses, a week for free and a nominal fee for the remaining items if there are more than five.
The city would absorb 21 of the 27 employees currently involved in the garbage pickup and the six remaining employees could go to work for Waste Management.
"The employees are totally looked after in this," Gippert said.
Louis Bunch of Sequoia Drive was the first to express some support for the plan.
"It seems like privatization would be the thing to do," Bunch said.
But 47-year-old Bunch then questioned how privatization would address the city's $300,000 deficit from the sanitation service, and later complained that he would need much more than 15 bags for the yard debris from his property.
After the meeting Bunch said he was for privatization initially but now believes there are "issues that need to be addressed," such as whether the three-year contract would be enforceable by a new city council that could come to power in two years.
Jackie Ciaravino said she wanted the city out of the sanitation business, primarily because she's not satisfied with how it's being done now.
"Nothing's being enforced (regarding city codes) and the city looks terrible," Ciaravino said. "People ask where you live and you don't want to say Forest Park anymore."
Former Councilwoman Corine Deyton and current Councilwoman Debbie Youmans spoke out against the plan.
"We as citizens can take care of this deficit," Deyton said. "We can keep the employees that we have, we can keep the service that we have."
Youmans said that Waste Management's existing transfer station on Lamar Drive is subjecting the residents around it to a "toxic and unhealthy environment."
"Why would the city want to reward Waste Management for causing harm," Youmans said.
Youmans also said she worried that the fact that the city collects a "host fee" of 50 cents per ton of garbage processed at the station would encourage the city to allow more garbage to come in.
She also told the crowd to call Lake City and ask them why they had discontinued their service with Waste Management.
Lake City had contracted with Waste Management for 15 years, said Lake City Director of Public Works Eddie Robinson, but four months ago they switched to Advanced Disposal. Advanced offered to pick up bulk items, something Waste Management wouldn't do for Lake City, and some other extra services.
"We actually got a better pickup for a better price," Robinson said.
But Robinson said Waste Management was "good to work with" and the city did not have a problem with them.
Forest Park City Manager Bill Werner said Friday that he would be reviewing the proposed contract with Waste Management over the weekend and hoped to present it to Mayor Chuck Hall today. Hall said he couldn't say when the contract would be presented to the council for a vote or whether they would also be presented with an ordinance to raise the garbage collection fee.
The next regular council meeting is scheduled for March 21, but a special meeting could be called to vote on the contract.