Athens’ garbage contract delay led to much higher costs for the city and customers

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — Athens residents will likely see at least a 40% increase in their monthly garbage bill starting next year.

This is significantly more than under a bid the City Council rejected earlier this year.

Under that bid, the proposed monthly rates for garbage and recycling service would have gone up 10% over the current rates.

But council members were divided over whether to stick with the local company or go with the cheaper option. Plus, there were some issues with both bids.

So in June, the council rejected the bids, sent the garbage contract out for bid again, and put someone else in charge of making the decision.

Since then, the city has had to pay a quarter of a million dollars to help cover the costs of an emergency garbage contract.

When the second round of bids came in, the local provider was still more expensive, and the lower bid was higher than before.

The city decided last week to go with the lower bid from Cincinnati-area based Rumpke Waste and Recycling.

How we got here with the Athens garbage contract

In December last year, the city received two bids for the garbage contract: one from Athens-Hocking Recycling Centers, the city’s current provider, and one from Rumpke.

AHRC’s bid was significantly higher than Rumpke’s — $1.7 million more over four years.

These are different size options of the trash cans Athens residents will receive under the city's new contract with Rumpke Waste and Recycling. The new cans are part of the extra cost residents will pay under the new contract.
These are different size options of the trash cans Athens residents will receive under the city’s new contract with Rumpke Waste and Recycling. The cans are part of the extra cost residents will pay under the new contract. [Jack Greene | WOUB]
Some council members argued it was worth spending more to stay with the local company, saying it is an investment back into the community. Some also believed AHRC was more committed to the city’s sustainability goals.

Others said it was too much of a burden on residents to ask for higher prices when a much cheaper option was on the table.

The council was also concerned over missing information in both bids and rejected them on the advice of the city law director.

In June, the council voted to put the garbage contract back out to bid and give the final decision to Service-Safety Director Andy Stone.

“We decided and voted to give it to the administration because they handle all the other contracts,” Council Member Alan Swank said. “They have the expertise in doing that, and quite honestly, contracts are an administrative function, not a legislative function.”

As the deadline to approve a new contract by the end of June approached, the council passed an emergency ordinance to continue the contract with AHRC. The cost under the emergency contract increased substantially, but for residents rates stayed the same. Instead, the city covered the difference.

Stone said the city is paying about $43,000 more per month under the emergency contract than it is taking in. To cover the extra cost, the city is using $250,000 in federal pandemic relief funds.

The cost of Athens’ delay

When the city received the new bids, Rumpke was again significantly cheaper than AHRC. But Rumpke’s second bid was more costly than its first, and the proposed monthly rates for residents are substantially higher.

In Rumpke’s first bid, the total cost for residential garbage and recycling services was $1.33 million a year. To pay for the service, the city proposed raising customer rates by 10%.

Under Rumpke’s new bid, residential service will cost around $1.5 million annually. This is a 12% increase over the first bid. And the city is now proposing a 45% increase in the monthly one-can rate for customers and a 39% increase in the two-can rate.

Director of Code Enforcement David Riggs explained why the proposed increase in customer rates is so much higher than the increase in the bid price.

Riggs said the increase will help replenish the city’s fund that pays for garbage collection and other services in the city.

He said the fund went into a sharp decline starting in 2019. It has since leveled off somewhat but has not recovered and there is still a chronic shortfall.

“It’s about $15,000 to $20,000 a month,” he said. “This is the way I’m trying to balance the actual costs of the fund versus the income that comes in.”

Riggs said another reason for the bigger rate hike has to do with the cost of providing residential customers with new recycling and garbage cans.

Under the first round of bids, “we decided to spread the cost of the cans across everybody, so even people that wouldn’t get cans were going to pay some of the price for getting the cans,” Riggs said.

Riggs said once the council put Stone in charge of the garbage contract, he thought dividing the cost for new cans among all customers was “not fair.” Instead, only residential customers will pay for the new cans, which increases their monthly rate.

Aesthetics lead to higher costs per month

The city did not have to get new cans. Both Rumpke and AHRC submitted bids without new cans included. Under this option, customers would pay $3 less per month than the proposed rates with cans.

Stone said one of the reasons the city decided to go with new cans is aesthetics. He said the city has received complaints that the trash cans make the city less uniform.

He said from a “cleanliness perspective citywide, we think that uniform cans will make sense.”

Riggs said another reason the city opted for cans is because they don’t have any more recycling cans to give out.

Under the previous contract with AHRC, the city was not provided with cans but was able to purchase recycling cans thanks to a grant. Now, Riggs said there are none left if a can needs to be replaced.

Another reason for opting for new cans is to stop customers from using cans that aren’t on the correct rate.

One-can rates are for 30-gallon cans, Riggs said, but “somebody will say, I want the one-can rate, but they still have a 60- or 90-gallon container. We don’t check the container.”

He said this is unfair to those who are paying the same rate for a smaller, and correctly sized, can. 

Athens residents will have the opportunity to speak on the proposed rates at Monday’s City Council meeting.

The proposed rates need to be approved before the new contract starts on Jan. 1.