Athens council members remain divided over best choice for garbage service

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — Several months after a failed effort to contract for garbage service, the City Council still seems divided over the same issue: whether to stick with the local company or go with a cheaper option.

The first round of bids for garbage, recycling and composting service were rejected in April after the city’s law director said the bids were incomplete and could put the city at legal risk.

Athens-Hocking Recycling Center, the current provider, had submitted a bid for $2.5 million annually over the four-year contract. Rumpke, a Cincinnati-based company and one of the nation’s largest waste and recycling companies, bid at $1.9 million a year.  The difference between the two was $600,000 annually and $2.4 million over the duration of the contract.

When these bids were first discussed by council members, some argued for staying with Athens-Hocking despite the higher cost while others questioned why residents should be asked to pay a higher rate than what Rumpke was offering.

The council found itself in the same spot four years ago when Rumpke also submitted a lower bid than Athens-Hocking. The council decided then to stick with the local company.

Because the bids for this year’s contract were rejected, the council is now considering an ordinance to put the contract out for bid again.

The ordinance got its second reading Monday night, and a couple of council members shared their opinions. Alan Swank said that after decades with Athens-Hocking, it may be time for a change, and referenced the now-rejected bids.

“How can you justify assigning a dollar amount for an acceptable bid of 2.6 million dollars per year,” Swank said during the meeting, “when we have a professional estimate that says it can be done for slightly less than 2 million?”

Council member Ben Ziff argued that while one may be more expensive, the company proposals are not the same. Ziff told WOUB that locality is important because investing in local companies is an investment in the community.

The ordinance will get its third reading, and a vote by the council, at the next regular council session.

Meanwhile, Athens-Hockings’ current contract ends June 30, which would leave the city without a waste hauler.

The council’s solution was to create an emergency ordinance authorizing a no-bid temporary contract for six months, allowing time for new bids for the regular contract, which would start in 2024 and be reduced to three and a half years. This ordinance got its first of three readings at Monday’s meeting.

During the meeting, a Rumpke representative suggested his company also be considered for the temporary contract along with Athens-Hocking.

“We can have people in place July 1,” said Rumpke Regional Vice President Bill Youck. “And we have the equipment to provide service July 1.”  

The discussion of the emergency ordinance allowed council members to ask both Rumpke and Athens-Hocking representatives questions.

Swank asked Bruce Underwood, executive director of Athens-Hocking, how a 30% price increase could be justified. 

“Our numbers for what we charge the city was a 22% increase,” Underwood said. “I think the other bidder left out some of the information as to what the cost would be for some of those services the city requested in the bid. I feel we gave our full faith effort to put a number to what the city was requesting.”

Swank then asked Youck how Rumpke could do it for such a low price. 

“We have a landfill, we’re very good at collecting trash, we’ve been doing it for a long time, and none of this is really new to us,” Youck said. “It’s not at a scale that scares us. We’re prepared to do the work and we can do the work.”