Guest editorial: Decision will cost city and residents
At the Sept. 6 Helper city council meeting, the council, by a 3-2 roll call vote, decided to simultaneously throw the city into an unnecessary legal battle, deprive the people of Helper household and commercial waste removal service for an indeterminate period of time, and, in the end, ultimately pay the waste disposal fees in dispute anyway.
This is the Helper city council's response to the Carbon County commission's decision to amend the county's original 40-year agreement with Allied Waste (ECDC) allowing ECDC to begin charging a waste disposal "tipping fee" of $22 per ton for waste collected in the county and disposed of at the landfill facility.
There has been plenty of discussion and publicity regarding the county's decision, so I will not delve into that issue at this time.
The sad irony about the Helper city council decision, as explained further below, is that regardless of the outcome of the pending mutual breach-of-contract dispute between the city and its long-time waste collection service provider, City Sanitation, the city will ultimately have to pay the new disposal fees anyway. In the meantime, we stand to lose a service provider that for years has collected and disposed of the waste from our city parks, baseball parks, and city events like the Helper Arts Festival, Christmas Light Parade, and the recent fund raiser for the victims of the Crandall Canyon Mine disaster free of charge as a sign of gratitude for our business.
When the waste disposal contract for Helper was last completed, there was a nominal $2.13 per ton "tipping fee" assessed for disposal of waste generated by Carbon County residents. This fee was paid by Carbon County on behalf of all municipal and unincorporated citizens out of tax revenues collected from Carbon County residents and businesses - it was not visible on anyone's individual bill. This agreement was originally intended to be in place for the first 40 years of ECDC's operation in order to benefit the people of Carbon County in return for the county's agreement to approve the landfill's operating permit.
There was no waste disposal "tipping fee" when the current contract was entered into; nor was there a disposal fee during the term of the previous contract. It was never anticipated, but here it is today. The new "tipping fee" applies to anyone that disposes of waste at the East Carbon facility. There are no other appropriately permitted disposal facilities available in Carbon County or neighboring counties for a variety of reasons that would take more space than I have available to discuss.
Unfortunately, in my opinion, the path the Helper city council has chosen is the most disruptive and expensive path possible. There are several scenarios to consider.
Scenario one. The fee has been imposed by the county and we will need to pay it. The city agrees to pay the fees. Fees are increased by approximately $2.17 per residential can per month and commercial rates increase by 63 cents per cubic yard for commercial businesses. Result: continuous, good, uninterrupted service, albeit at a slightly higher rate.
Scenario two. Decide we do not want to pay the disposal fee, terminate the contract, and re-bid the service. The result? Disruption of service due to the time required to comply with legal requirements for advertising, competitive bidding, and contract award procedures. Then, we pay the new fees anyway because they are now part of the competitive landscape and we will probably pay more to cover the unanticipated recent increases in fuel, labor, and utility costs that are controlled under the existing contract.
Scenario three. (The Helper city council's alternative.) Decide we do not want to pay the disposal fee, risk entering into litigation where both parties sue each other for breach of contract. If litigation results, there are two possible outcomes to this scenario, both leading to the same result - the city pays the new disposal fees.
In the first outcome, Helper City prevails in litigation. The contractor, unable to cover the $2,000 per month loss, has already exercised its 90-day "Termination for Convenience" clause creating a disruption of service due to the time required to comply with legal requirements for advertising, competitive bidding, and contract award procedures. Then, we pay the new fees anyway (in addition to our attorney's fees and litigation costs) because the new fees are now part of the competitive landscape and, worse, we probably pay more to cover the unanticipated recent increases in fuel, labor, and utility costs that are controlled under the existing contract.
In the second possible outcome for this scenario, the contractor prevails in litigation. Result? Helper City is liable for its attorney's fees and litigation costs, the contractor's back charges and damages, and - get this - we still have to pay the new "tipping fees." Meanwhile, we endure the disruption of service that occurs during what could be several months of litigation, and the pending termination of the existing contract.
Helper City does not have the financial resources to mount what, in my opinion, is a risky and ill-advised litigation with a corporation that has nationwide experience in the solid waste business. Should we never mind that we will end up paying the fees no matter the outcome? Should we never mind that the existing contractor has provided Helper good service at a fair price for over six years? Should we never mind that the contractor employs three Helper residents, one of which will be in jeopardy of being laid off? Should we never mind that all waste receptacles in Helper will be collected on or before September 30, 2007 and Helper residents and businesses will be forced to haul their household and commercial waste to the landfill on their own or stockpile it on their own property?
Yes, the new fee is going to be unpopular because we will all pay more, but it is far less onerous than the alternative that the city council chose at last night's meeting. The county needs a waste disposal facility, hence the new fees. We need uninterrupted service and a reliable waste disposal contractor.
We have only one more opportunity to avoid the impending train wreck in Helper City and that is the next Helper City council meeting on Thursday, Sept. 20 at 6 p.m. Helper residents should please plan to attend unless they want to dispose of their own waste and still ultimately pay more for waste disposal than they would if the Helper City Council simply acted responsibly, avoided costly litigation, and reached a resolution with the existing contractor to have the city cover the new disposal fees.
That is exactly what other, more reasonable local governments in the county have done and are doing.