Falmouth City Council says no to privatizing trash services in raucous meeting

The issue was clear, the digging in of heels was apparent at the Special and Caucus meetings of Falmouth City Council on Tues. Oct 2, 2018. At issue during the special meeting was garbage collection, should it be contracted out to Rumpke or should the city buy a new truck, long overdue, and continue collecting the garbage itself. Drew Watson, Municipal/Public Sector Representative from Rumpke Waste and Recycling Services was present to answer the many questions council members had about their proposed bid.

“Rumpke proposes to provide weekly curbside collection of solid waste for residential units billed to the city on a monthly basis at the rate $12.50 per unit. Rumpke proposes to provide weekly curbside collection of solid waste for commercial hand service units at the rate of $20.00 per unit per month billed directly to the customer. Pricing will remain firm for three years. Solid waste carts will be available for rental for $3.00 per cart per month billed directly to the resident of commercial customer. All carts will remain the property of Rumpke. Rumpke will offer commercial services for dumpsters at the following rates.” For example a size 2 dumpster is  $58.00 per month. Extra service is an additional $45.00 and goes up from there.

Jeff Carson commented after some back and forth with Watson about the commercial rates. “This deal will hurt the businesses in town.”

Councilman Sebastian Ernst asked for an overview of the contract. Watson said, “It’s an all inclusive trash collection contract. $12.50 per unit fixed for three years.” Ernst continued, “What about direct billing?” Which means each customer being billed by Rumpke. Watson responded, “That would cost more.” Councilwoman Amy Hitch jumped in, “How much more.?” Watson said, “We would have to go back and rebid this contract to get that number. As it stands in this contract, the city incurs the cost of billing and money collection.” Councilwoman Philis Wait asked, “If the bill is not paid what happens?” Watson responded, “The customer has ninety days to pay or we will not pick up their trash.” Wait asked, “Who does?” Watson replied, “That is the customer’s problem.”

Watson continued, “If the population is transient the city will need to provide any changes in the count for pickup. We provide totes at a $3.00 per month rental fee.” Hurst asked, “What about special event pickup, like Fourth of July Parade, etc?” Watson said, “It would be done as the city does it at our expense.” Ernst said, “How many cities do you collect for in Northern Kentucky?”

“All but four,” Watson said. Wait wanted to know about the weight of the trucks  causing damage to city streets. Watson hesitated before answering,“I don’t believe they will.”

    An audience member wanted to know about leaf collection. Watson said, “Rumpke does not do that unless the leaves are bagged in fifty pound or less bags and all limbs are bundled. Another audience member asked, “What’s so bad about having to bag your leaves?” “I am sure you do not have a yard the size of mine!”, the first questioner stated.

“So, Rumpke charges $12.50 per customer and the city charges $13. What do we do with any overage after we pay the cost of billing?” asked Hurst. Watson responded, “Other cities bank the extra.” Hurst pointed out, “For us that’s about $4000 per year, which will not cover the $30,000 per year which our auditor clearly shows is an ongoing cost for IT and other shared expenses if we go with Rumpke. Those expenses will not go away.”

Ernst jumped in, “We are losing money!” Holding up papers he got from the city he went on, “It’s all here, the city has lost money on garbage for the last five years!” City Clerk Chrissy O”Hara said we have a reserve out of which we have done truck repairs for years.” Gary Lea jumped in to respond to Ernst, “How can the city be losing money on garbage when we have put aside by ordinance 10% of the annual income and saved $140,000 which is  more then enough to buy a new truck.?” Ernst held up his papers again shaking them, “It’s all here!”

An audience member asked, “Will Rumpke raise its rates at the end of the three years?” Watson, though he would could not say by how much, was clear that the company would raise the rates for the people in the city. O’Hara said, “That in turn will cause the city to have to raise its rates to keep up with it’s costs for doing the billing.”   

At one point the meeting deteriorated into a shouting match over garbage money being used to pay part of O’Hara’s salary. It seemed to be among a few audience members who were Rumpke employees or so their shirts seemed to indicate. Mayor Ron Stinson tried in vein to calm the ruckus but to no avail.

When Ernst was asked by Hurst about the disposition of the two employees who currently collect garbage  and do other tasks for the city, if the Rumpke contract is accepted, Ernst replied “They can work for Rumpke for a lot more money and better benefits.” At this point someone yelled, “Yes, but what if they like working for the city?”

During an exchange between Ernst and a city employee, who stands to lose his job if the Rumpke bid is accepted, there were indications that the employee was encouraged to attend this meeting by Ernst. Conversations after the meeting by this reporter with the mayor and certain council members who wished to remain anonymous seemed to support that concern.

Be that as it may, suddenly Ernst voiced a motion to accept the Rumpke bid and Wait gave a second. During the discussion that followed, Jeff Carson said, “The city needs a profit and loss report for each department before they can make a decision.”

Hurst noted again, the cost to the city if garbage is not collected by the city will be $30,000 per year. Where will that money come from?” Councilwoman April DeFalco pointed out, “If we keep these two employees where will the money come from to pay them, their insurance, workers comp, and so on...$100,000.

The vote went as follows for the motion to accept the Rumpke bid. NO: Amy Hitch, Amy Hurst, April DeFalco and Joyce Carson. Yes: Sebastian Ernst and Phylis Wait.

DeFalco then moved to buy the new truck and so keep collecting garbage by the city. Carson offered a second. Yes: Amy Hitch, Amy Hurst, April DeFalco and Joyce Carson. No: Sebastian Ernst and Philis Wait. Following Wait’s vote she promptly walked of the meeting shouting, “I did what the people wanted!” Ernst, asked emotionally, “How did we just vote without any discussion?” Hurst shot back quickly, “We’ve been discussing this thing for months!”

Following this vote the audience cleared out during which someone shouted gruffly, “Mayor, the election is in November!”

Mayor Stinson then called for the second item of business, a second reading of the city’s tax proposal which City Attorney Branden Voelker proceeded to do. On Personal/Tangible Property $0.731 per $100 of assessed value(which is business inventory), Motor Vehicle $0.204 per $100 of assessed value and Real Property $0.661 per $100 of assessed value. Ernst moved to accept it as read and Hurst gave a second. The vote was unanimous to accept.