Athens leaders are discussing the possibility of putting trash services back under local government control

Posted on:

< < Back to

ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) – The city of Athens has just signed a contract with a new garbage collector, but it’s already exploring another option.

This option would be to make garbage collection a government operation, which it once was decades ago.

Under the idea now being discussed, a council of governments (COG) would be created to operate garbage and recycling service.

This proposed COG would include Athens, Nelsonville, Amesville, Logan, Athens County and the Athens-Hocking Solid Waste District.

Crissa Cummings with AHRC said talks of creating a COG have been happening since 2019 but really picked up this summer when Athens rejected bids by AHRC and Rumpke Waste and Recycling for a new garbage contract.

Cummings said AHRC worked with lawyers to draft bylaws and an agreement, but there was not enough time to get the COG finalized before a second round of bids came in and a choice had to be made.

“None of the councilors were ready, or the administrations were ready, to sort of be the community that brought this to the public’s knowledge and ready to move forward with it,” she said.

Now, with a new contract signed with Rumpke, Athens continues to show interest in the potential COG. Rumpke’s bid was significantly lower than AHRC’s, but some city leaders and community members are upset the city did not stick with AHRC, a local company that has provided this service for several decades.

Athens City Hall is seen in Athens, Ohio, on Tuesday, June 22, 2021. [Joseph Scheller | WOUB]
Athens City Hall is seen in Athens, Ohio, on Tuesday, June 22, 2021. [Joseph Scheller | WOUB]
Deputy Service-Safety Director Andrew Chiki, who attended a meeting two weeks ago to hear more about the plans, told WOUB the city is not leading the effort to create a COG but remains “interested in how that would shake out.”

Chiki also said the feasibility of a COG will largely depend on who agrees to join and what the costs will be.

“Part of that conversation has to include how do we both financially and environmentally protect our most vulnerable populations,” he said. “It all has to make sense and has to make sense financially as well.”

Part of that thinking is how much it would cost to acquire trucks and employees and everything else needed for the COG to create its own garbage and recycling collection service and how much it would have to charge residents for this to pencil out.

Cummings said much of this gets solved if AHRC is essentially absorbed into the COG.

“All of AHRC’s assets and employees are transferred to the council of governments,” she said. “We essentially carry on as we have been, but with a board made up of elected officials, instead of the all-volunteer citizen board.”

But time is of the essence.

Cummings said the Athens contract is roughly 40% of AHRC’s income, and without it cuts must be made to stay afloat.

Rumpke has agreed to continue bringing the city’s recycling and composting to AHRC’s facility for processing until August 2024 and maybe till the end of next year. After that, this material may go to Rumpke’s own processing facility in Columbus.

This will help AHRC in the short-term, Cummings said, but cuts will still need to be made. She said she can’t see the company making it to 2025.

Chiki said if this is true, officials would try to work quickly to figure out if a COG is feasible.

“If there are existing assets and the numbers work, we’re open to that,” he said.

Even though the city has just contracted with Rumpke, it can still opt out and go with the COG.

At Monday’s Athens City Council meeting, Councilmember Alan Swank said the contract’s 60-day opt-out clause allows the city or Rumpke to leave at any time.

“The clause allows the city or Rumpke to notify the other that upon 60 days notice the contract can be terminated,” he said.

Chiki said the city is expecting more information soon on the COG. He said once that is done a follow-up meeting between potential members will be scheduled.

Cummings said other potential partners in the COG are moving forward as well.

The Athens Hocking Solid Waste District is having a meeting on Feb. 5 to discuss the COG proposal. Cummings said the Athens County commissioners will also be discussing the potential COG at an upcoming meeting.